Tag Archives: Activities

Three Truths About Paradise

IMG_7012.jpgOur ever evolving languages can often lead to some complicated terms, and concepts that can often be difficult to both describe and properly comprehend.  One of those concepts is paradise, this concept of a place where everything is ideal, happy and worry free.  But, in various places within our culture, there are vastly differing depictions of it.

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Last year, I rode my bike through a place called Paradise Valley, in Southern Montana, along the Yellowstone River Valley.  This “paradise” is a calm, quiet, and sparsely populated picturesque landscape in the mountains.  When many people here in Colorado talk about “paradise”, they are commonly discussing places that meet this very description.

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A google image search for the word paradise primarily produces images of a tropical beach.  This is the image of paradise depicted in commercials for products like Corona.  In my observation, this is the most common way paradise is depicted in our culture, and for anyone that has ever spent a winter in the Midwest, it serves as a dream vacation.

And then there is the world of music, and its plethora of widely varying references to paradise; As a specific act of intense sexual pleasure (L.L. Cool J.).  As a hyperbole for a horrible life situation (Phil Collins).  Sarcastically (Green Day).  Detroit based rapper Big Sean comes closest to appreciating the true, complex nature of the concept, when, in his song, Paradise, he discusses his lifestyle as a whole, and the pride he has taken in earning it.

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I wasn’t expecting to find any inspiration here at Evergreen Lake.  I mainly came up here to free myself from the distractions at home, and also avoid the 90 degree heat in Denver, without traveling too far.  I did not know what to expect from this place.  I hoped to find somewhere I can alternate between walking and reading.  What I saw was a popular public place, with outfitters renting out paddle boats, stand-up paddle boards, and other strange water contraptions, families having picnics, and groups of friends just enjoying themselves in the areas surrounding the lake.

It felt like paradise- sort of.  In a way, it felt reminiscent of paradise, what it truly is and isn’t.  The concept of paradise is kind of complex, but lost in all of our songs, pictures, and conversations, are three basic truths about paradise.

  1. Paradise is not just a geographical location- it’s a setting!

It’s the time of day and time of year.  It’s who you are with (or not with), your situation, and what’s on your mind.  It’s a “setting”, in the full sense of the word, as it is applied to stories, plays, etc.  This can include not only the place a person is, but where they just were, where they are going, and how they feel about all of it.

  1. Paradise is different for every person.

Gazing upon people giggling amongst each other, playing games, paddling their boats and such, I realized that, as a true extrovert, my version of paradise is probably not this quiet retreat in the mountains, or an empty beach.  It probably falls a lot closer to Big Sean’s, a life well lived and earned!  But, also a place where people are interacting with one another in a manner that is enjoyable.

  1. We often don’t recognize paradise until after the fact.

I was inspired by multiple specific things I saw.  A group of older people playing bocce ball reminded me that life did not have to become dull and uninspiring with age (as I often fear).  There was also a group of younger people, cheerleaders, doing cartwheels and giggling about what had transpired over the course of their weekend.  Witnessing this reminded me of all of the times I had spent socializing with good friends over the past decade or so.  It was almost like a montage playing through my head.

I recalled the times I would be envious of people in a large group that seemed to be doing something more interesting than what I was doing, only to remember how frequently, I am on the other side of that equation, part of a large group, likely being obnoxious.  I recall in particular, one time, in Chicago, when I tried to replicate the experience of passing around a boot of beer, a German tradition also common in Madison, Wisconsin.  I found a place that served boots, and assembled a group of a dozen or so people only to realize that this was more of a family establishment, and not necessarily a place to go to recreate college type antics.  We still had a good time, and there may have been some that wished for that level of excitement out of their evening!

Of the crowd at Lake Evergreen, I wonder how many of them are like me.  I wonder how many of them are enjoying their own personal version of paradise, and, as I had so many times in the past, not realized it until a couple of weeks after the fact.

Cool For the Summer

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People define the season of “summer” in various ways.  Astronomers first defined summer as the period of time from the Summer Solstice (roughly June 21st) through the Autumnal Equinox (roughly September 21st).  Later on, meteorologists developed the term “meteorological summer”, defined as the months of June, July, and August, to refer to the period of time when weather conditions (in the Northern Hemisphere) are typically most consistently warm.  Of course, if you are a kid, or a student of any kind, summer clearly runs from the last day of the Spring semester through the first day of the Fall semester.  In the United States, many individuals, particularly those in the working world, have arrived on a definition of “summer” as the period between Memorial Day Weekend (the last weekend in May) and Labor Day Weekend (the first weekend in September).  In fact, at one of my previous places of employment, “business casual” attire was permitted only during the time period between Memorial Day and Labor Day.  No matter where you are in life, if you are in the Northern Hemisphere outside the tropics, summer is coming to an end.  Tonight’s (Labor Day) sunset, for many of us, feels like the last sunset of the summer.

I still remember an episode of Saved By the Bell where Zach Morris, the main character, calls in sick on one of the first school days of the year.  The entire cast of the show had spent a crazy summer in Hawaii.  It was so exhausting, so emotional, and so full of experiences and memories, that he just needed a day to decompress from everything that had gone on over the summer.  That is very much what this weekend felt like to me.  Although I did not set aside an entire day to do nothing but process events, nor did I physically take a day off from work, school, etc., I definitely dialed it down, and put off some things in order to recuperate and process everything.

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For me, 2015 is what I would consider an “Epic Summer”.

As life progresses, I have come to realize that different periods of our lives mean different things.  Some years, and some seasons in particular, are just more memorable than others.  This does not mean that the other years and seasons are pointless.  It is just easier to remember and ponder the significance of certain periods.  History books specifically point to the year 1776, when the United States declared its independence from Great Britain, as a memorable year.  During the previous centuries, an emerging class known as the Burghers were gradually moving society away from Feudalism and towards Free Markets, creating many of the ideals that lead to the revolution.  There are many specific years between 1250 and 1776 that were not memorable, but still important in creating the world of 1776, as well as the world of today.

My life has a series of summers (five total including this one) I would consider “Epic”.  I consider a summer to be “Epic” if it meets several basic criterea.  First, it has to be memorable.  This obviously means experiences that are out of the ordinary.

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Second, in order for a time period, or an event to be considered “Epic”, it has to be one that I consider positive, and enjoyable.  After all, dealing with cancer, a major injury, or depression is memorable.  But, I would not think of it as “Epic”.

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Finally, I believe an “Epic” time period must also be productive rather than destructive.  After all, someone may go on a binge, or a rampage of some kind, and find it memorable, as well as enjoyable.  But, the experience may have been detrimental to their future.  So, I try to think of “Epic Summers”, as only the ones I feel like I am better off for having experienced.

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The first four times I had what I would consider an “Epic Summer”, I did not realize it was happening until it was over.  I later realized that those four summers were time periods I’d think about much more frequently than other times in my life.  Sometime this Spring, I looked back at those summers, and realized that many of the conditions that created the other four Epic Summers in my life were also present this year, and, that the summer that was to come could very well end up being one that I remember for the same reasons.  Now that summer 2015 has come and gone, I can say that the following conditions are what leads to an Epic Summer.

  1.  They are exhausting

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You are doing a lot!  Otherwise, it would not really be Epic.

2.  They involve new experiences

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The summer between my Junior and Senior year in College was “Epic” because I brought travel to a new level (for me) that summer.  Previously, my travel had primarily been weekend road trips in the area to places like Champaign, Bloomington, or Indianapolis.  That summer, an internship brought me to Oklahoma for several weeks and included many more experiences throughout that part of the country. This summer was my first major multi-day bicycle trip, and my first time backpacking.

3.  They involve some amount of planning

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For many types of adventures, logistics do need to be considered.  Where will we stay?  How will we coordinate activities?  I am not saying anyone can plan their way into an Epic Summer, nor am I saying that everything needs to be planned out.  In fact, some spontaneity is also needed.  But, many activities do need to be arranged ahead of time, particularly when they involve a significant number of people.

4.  They build on advancements we make as a person on both short and long time frames

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I would never have gotten to the point where I could complete a bike ride like the one I did in July had I not made steady progress as a cyclist over the years.  This includes the training and completion of my first century ride in Illinois back in 2011, another summer I consider Epic.  Prior to this summer, I worked on myself, trying to improve some of my habits and personality traits that I consider ineffective.  I made continuing to have new and interesting experiences one of my 2015 New Years goals at the start of the year.  The same goes for my first Epic Summer, the summer after my High School graduation.  That year, I took advantage of the maturity, and improvements in my self confidence that actually began to take place halfway through my Junior year.

5.  There is a mix of the familiar and the absurd

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In every Epic Summer I have had, there have ben some repeats.  Like in previous years here in Denver, I attended the USA Pro Challenge and saw the exciting finish of Colorado’s version of the Tour de France.  After attending that race, I witnessed a topless protest on my way to a Weird Al Yankovich concert- quite absurd.

6. There are old friend as well as new friends

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One thing about every time period I have ever considered an “Epic Summer”, is that it is partially about a feeling.  By that, I mean a feeling that my life is just flowing properly.  As a social person, that entails spending time with people that I have known for some time, and become comfortable with, but also continuing to expand my network and make new friends.  In each of my Epic Summers, I have had some sort of influx of new people, through work, organizations, or friends of friends in the months preceding the actual summer.

7.  They are not without conflict

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My first Epic Summer I was always in conflict with my parents.  This summer, I have had a lot of conflict at work.  It is hard to say why, but when you are out there in the world, and following your true moral compass, you are naturally going to have some people that do not appreciate that.

8.  They are often preceded by ruts

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I really do not know why this is, at least not in a logical manner, but every single epic summer I have ever had was preceded by some kind of rut.  This year, a rainy May in Denver combined with career stagnation actually bored me quite a bit.  It feels almost as if the rhythm of life is starting to hint at the need for a much more active period to come.

I come out of the summer of 2015 knowing much more about life, and much more about myself and my own desires than I did beforehand.  I have reached this state because of each and every one of the conditions listed above.  I am bummed that summer is over, but, when mentally healthy, a person can transition from one amazing experience to the next.  When I left college, I was sad, knowing that I had just had an amazing four year experience.  But, I avoided dwelling on it, which would have ruined the last few months of that experience.  Whatever comes next, in fall, may not be quite as amazing summer was.  But, all I can do is take these experiences, and the improvements I have made to myself as a result of them, and use them to help me going forward.

A Month Without Sleep

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I guess it would be an exaggeration to say that I, or anyone else for that matter, went a whole month without sleep.  But, sometimes life, and the procession of events, activities, changes and emotions, refuses to come at you at a steady and workable pace.  One day we find ourselves stagnant and antsy, wondering what is next, and wishing for something significant to happen to us.  Then, out of nowhere, we suddenly can’t seem to keep up with all the planning, deadlines, issues, and events.  We literally find ourselves unable to spare a single hour out of a crammed week.  Sure, we always think to ourselves of ways to avoid both extremes.  We think of ways to shift some activities from busier periods to quieter periods.  But, it never seems to work out that way.  Something always comes up.  Some sort of factor we had not previously considered prevents us from utilizing those slow periods when we get antsy.  And, these periodic episodes that test our endurance are still going to come.

Both of these images were taken on restless nights during the month of June.  Both nights were restless for completely different reasons.  And, both photos are beautiful, in a very artistic sort of manner.  As I gaze at these pictures, I can’t help but imagine art enthusiasts looking at these images, discussing their settings, their emotions, their significance, all that deep stuff.  I wonder how many of these artists would come to conclusions similar to the actual stories behind these pictures.  The picture on the left is a sunset picture in the city, taken after a busy and emotional Monday at the office.  The photo on the right was taken after a particularly festive Saturday night in Vail that lasted well past sunrise Sunday morning.  Both nights I did not get any sleep, but for reasons that could not be any farther apart from one another.

June is a terrible time for any of the drama associated with “regular life”, whether it be moving, career issues, financial problems, or family and relationship issues to come up.  There is just way too much fun stuff to do- everywhere!  No matter what city you live in, there are festivals all over the place.

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It is the peak time of year for Whitewater Rafting in this part of the country.

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There is the ongoing severe thunderstorm season.

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And, there is also tons of daylight, and pleasant weather up in the mountains.

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I have no time for anything else in June.  All those “regular life” things that demand my attention just need to wait.  There will be plenty of time when the snow reappears on the mountain tops, nights get longer, days get chillier, and opportunities inevitably shrink with the passing of the season, for me to turn my attention to all of that other stuff.

June, for me consisted of a plethora of experiences.  Some of them familiar.  As I did last year, I went to the GoPro games in Vail June’s first full weekend.  Just as I did last year, I went rafting the third weekend of the month.  And, as always, I spent some time out on the town, and did some goofy stuff.

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But, some things were unique to this particular June.  I was lucky to have been joined in Colorado by some of my friends from Chicago, who came for a week to see some sights around the State.

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We also experienced copious amounts of rain.  Rivers and creeks expanded to cover areas that are typically dry- including bike trails.

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On top of all that, career related anxiety, which began months ago, but mercilessly intensified during the month of June, lead me to seek out some places where I typically go to clear my head.

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It was not until the final Sunday of June, the 28th, when I finally took a pause, and realized just how intense June had been.  It almost felt like my first real day of rest for the entire month.  You see, on top of all of the activities I have been involved in, seeking out answers related to my job, and trying to get more involved in some some social groups, I have also been training for, as well as planning out my next epic trip, which will begin in less than 48 hours.

I had always dreamed of traveling long distances by bicycle.  In fact, I am a member of the Adventure Cycling Association, and have been following their push to develop cross-country bicycle routes for years.  This fourth of July weekend, I will be embarking on the biggest journey by bicycle of my life, a ride from Bozeman, Montana to Jackson, Wyoming.

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This three day, roughly 230 mile bike ride will take me through some of this country’s greatest treasures, including Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks.  On the way into Yellowstone, I will be riding through a region known as Paradise Valley, which includes Chico Hot Springs, and other unique features.

Planning, and training for, this ride definitely added to an already crammed month of June, but I sincerely believe it will be worth it.  Just as we have daytime and nighttime on a 24 hour cycle, we have both active and restful periods on a larger scale.  And, although July is not looking too much more restful than June for me, there will eventually will come another break in activity, another lull, another time to regroup, and “sleep”.  Maybe I’ll even figure out some of that pesky “regular life” stuff too.  But one thing is for sure, it will not be as epic as this.

Full Service Camping

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Camping is not just camping.  In fact, there is an entire spectrum of different types of camping one can take part in.  On one end of the spectrum is the type of bare bones camping that can be found in National Forests and other wilderness areas.  I took part in this type of camping for the first time last year at Gunnella Pass.  These are places where you just put down your tent, and pretty much are on your own.  Maybe there’s a fire pit leftover from the last set of people who plopped their tents there.

On the other end of the spectrum are places like Starlite Classic Campground.  These campgrounds have their own office, where one can usually buy the ice, firewood, and other standard camping supplies, specific camping sites reserved in advance for various group sizes, and often have plenty of other amenities.

On this campground, we had a pool, which we ended up spending a significant amount of time in, as temperatures soared well in to the 90s Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

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Next to the pool is a children’s play area, which I probably spent way more time than any adult should at, but, hey, I am also a grown-up throwing myself a half birthday party, so, it kinda fits.

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And, not to mention, a whole bunch of other games, including horseshoes, volleyball, and even a mini-golf course.

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All this made for a completely different kind of experience than your standard camping trip.  When most people think of camping, they ponder up images of a campfire, roasting marshmallows, and a fairly quiet experience, which can often involve some reflection, star gazing, and deep conversations in the wilderness.  With the hot temperatures, mid-June daylight lasting until nearly 9 P.M., all the amenities at Starlite, and a total of 17 people participating in the weekend (including both camping and rafting), very little of your standard camping experience happened.  In fact, the weekend kind of felt like some kind of hybrid experience between being at a campsite and a party!

Starlite Classic Campground is located just across the street from Performance Tours, the outfitter we used for our rafting trip.  We had a mere two minute walk to get where we needed to go in the morning.  In fact, the evening before the trip, we could see the very bus we would be getting on the following morning to start our raft trip.

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With the purchase of the group site at Starlite, we received a significant discount on the rafting trip, as they have some sort of deal.

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In addition to all of the fun, the scenery was amazing.  Just four miles south of the campground is the Royal Gorge Bridge, which can be seen by gazing across the open plane of the Arkansas River Valley.  A quick turn to the right, and one can see the Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range, which contains numerous peaks over 14,000 feet, and extends all the way into Northern New Mexico.

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As I walked across the open field that evening, staring across a the Sangres, and the bridge, and some of the other terrain features that look so breathtaking when the setting sun hits them at just the right angle, I came to the realization that I had entered the sweet spot that I am always looking for in life.  By this I mean being the best version of me, the version of me I wish I could be all the time, but somehow can’t.

Without the help of any substance, drugs, alcohol, or even caffeine for that matter, all the anxiety had just vanished.  I was just content.  It’s hard to explain.  But, it was like I had just simply left the competitive world that we live in behind for a few days.  I did not feel I was competing with people, needing to prove anything, or potentially being judged for anything.  Maybe what I felt was acceptance, something we all long for in life, and something I sincerely appreciate those who joined me on this trip for.

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Out here, organizational structures, hierarchies, deadlines, and all of the things that make life stressful simply don’t exist.  It is just you, whoever you chose to make the trip with, and the scenery.  And, once you get to that place where you can let go of everything in your head, you find that best version of you, the one you know you are capable of.  It is the you that is confident, eager to take on a new activity, and in no way hiding any aspect of who you are out of fear of judgement.  It is the you that the people who you value are drawn to, and it is the you that should be celebrated, even if that means throwing yourself parties like this one.

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For me, when I am being true to myself, it means being goofy, and, well this area offers plenty of opportunities for that.  This section of U.S. highway 50, near Royal Gorge, has more than just one campsite and one whitewater outfitter.  There are more campsites, more whitewater outfitters, other activities (such as helicopter rides), and shops and restaurants that serve the needs of the tourists in the area.  Not to say that this area is a full-fledged tourist trap similar to Estes Park.  But, there are some places to wander around to at night if one is so inclined.

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The return trip home involved one mildly disappointing stop; the World’s Largest Rocking Chair.  The chair was large, but we could not get in, as the shop that houses it has been closed for a year.

As I faced the return trip to the city, the return to work, and normal life, I could not help but think about the feeling I had this weekend, and how to be the best version of myself, the me that I was all weekend, every day.  What I struggle with is that “normal life” offers pretty much two typical paths.  First, one could work hard and “move up” in their organization, get promoted, become the boss, and maybe even reach leadership positions.  However, I have frequently observed that in many organizations, reaching higher levels requires some level of conformity, and one often must make some compromises on who they are and what they value to get in the good graces of those higher up- particularly in larger organizations.

Then, of course, there is always the option to be content to simply stay at the bottom of the totem pole.  This is a better path for those that prefer to keep their work load at reasonable levels, and seriously value work-life balance.  But, unfortunately, those that chose this route will always be answering to somebody, a boss, and sometimes for somewhat arbitrary reasons.  Being at the mercy of one person (and that person can suddenly change), who may be having a bad day, a bad month, or just simply be a bad person, has lead to countless terrible outcomes, all of which result in people not being the best version of themselves.

This is not to say that all is lost.  There are plenty of people that find a path outside the typical two options laid out above.  Many even write about their experiences here on WordPress.  There are also plenty of people that find a good environment using one of the two standard paths outlined above.  But, we all have a struggle.  And, this weekend, I realized that in order to make this struggle easier for both myself and the people around me, I need to celebrate the attributes in others that draw me to them, and also celebrate my own attributes that draw others to me.  Regardless of our paths, this authenticity needs to be encouraged.