Tag Archives: travel

The Benefits of Being a World Traveler

IMG_1998 (1)I usually don’t like posting photos taken from an airplane. Especially ones where the wing of the airplane is clearly showing, like this one …

IMG_1994 (1).jpg

The situation was just too good! The flight path, which varies from flight to flight based on upper level winds, happened to track right over Iceland. At a time of year when days are only around five hours long across much of Iceland, and less than 1-in-5 days feature clear skies, it is impossible to overestimate how fortunate of a circumstance this was: To fly over the volcanically influenced terrain at the onset of winter, seeing it in all its glory from above in broad daylight like this.

I couldn’t help but reflect on my experience there, less than two years ago, hiking on the glaciers, standing next to all the waterfalls, and seeing the northern lights.

IMG_5287

As I had noted then, Iceland seems to be becoming a more popular destination for American tourists. However, according to a recent study, it does not crack the top 20 countries visited by Americans (based on data from 2015). Number 7 on that list is Germany, where my flight originated, where I had spent the prior evening, in Munich.

This was the second time Munich happened to be my final destination on a longer trip to Europe. This is an interesting coincidence as Munich somehow seems to feel closer to home than most other European cities I visit.

For example, nearly every other European city I visit has a significant number of really narrow streets, like these streets in Stockholm…

IMG_1916 (1)

Munich, by comparison, feels wide open.

IMG_1979 (1)

Part of the reason Munich feels familiar to me is because, for several years, I lived in the State of Wisconsin. With an estimated 42.6% of the population having German heritage, Wisconsin has its fair share of bars and restaurants that are decorated almost exactly like this one.

IMG_1973 (1)

Places like the Essen Haus, have a similar layout. The serving staff dress in similar Bavarian style attire, and serve similar food and beer.

IMG_1975 (1)

IMG_1971

By the way, the food at Augustiner, walking distance from Munich’s Central Station, was fantastic!

After visiting several countries, and flying over one that I had visited quite recently, I was headed home, to an America that is, based on the perspective of being abroad for a while, in a confusing place.

According to a recent article, while Americans are the 2nd most well-traveled country in the world, only 36% of Americans hold a valid passport. This is possibly the source of one stereotype about Americans, that we generally don’t travel outside of our country.

The numbers here tell a different story, one that matches what I have observed, interacting with other Americans.

IMG_1698 (1).jpg

 

There are people here who are interested in traveling to different countries. They often plan a lot of trips to may different foreign lands. There are also a lot of people that aren’t. As, we are a vast Country. Most people can experience almost anything they would want to experience without having to leave the U.S.

We are a well traveled country, partially by virtue of being wealthy. A significant amount of that travel manifests as travel within our Nation. Travel abroad is mostly done by roughly 10% of the population with genuine personal or business interests in other places.

I in no way intend to shame anyone for not wanting to travel to other countries. That is their choice (or limitation, as some people do not have the time or money to fly to another continent). Truly secure people validate their choices in life, not by diminishing those who chose differently. They validate their choices with confidence in the benefits of those choice.

That validation, for me, can be best demonstrated in a recent article in Entrepreneur Magazine, titled “Don’t Let You Butt Dominate Your Brain“. Traveling to other places is one of several ways we remind ourselves one of the most important things we need to remember, as we take on whatever endeavors we take on in life.

Our way of doing things is not the only way things can be done.

Other cultures have other ways of doing things. We may conclude that our current culture is the best fit for us. However, just because something we observe is different does not necessarily mean it is “wrong”. In fact….

Assuming someone is wrong because they do something differently invariantly comes across as condescending.

IMG_1726 (1).jpg

I generally try to keep anything political off of this blog. This is not a politics blog. I don’t see the world as currently in need of another person chiming in with their opinions about the news, at least not in America. However, going out and seeing other cultures made me reflect one something that feels like a real shortcoming in our current political situation.

The way our political system is currently set up seems to encourage us Americans to see a false dichotomy, a false choice between two ways of thinking, both of which have serious flaws.

On one side, there is a group of people who believe America can do no wrong. On this extreme, any criticism of our country is done out of hate, and there is absolutely nothing that can ever be learned from other cultures.

On the other side, a group of people that sees our country as deeply flawed. This group appears not to acknowledge what is good about America. They long for us to be like some other country, and when our culture and history is discussed, the response is usually something like “meh”, or worse.

IMG_0989

I can’t get down with either extreme, and it is my sincere belief that most Americans also find themselves somewhere in between these two maddening extremes. I sometimes think of countries in a similar way I would think of any other entity; a group, a person, a sports team, etc. I think of anyone that has a healthy sense of self. They believe that they are great, and do great things for the world. That does not mean they are not always looking for ways to improve, ways to be better. It also does not mean there is no room for some friendly criticism when it is warranted.

Traveling in general, particularly to other cultures, can be a powerful reminder that there is no one correct way to go about our lives. It also exposes people to new ideas. I believe everyone needs experiences like this, in order to stay open and avoid becoming too set in their ways. However, that does not necessarily have to be world travel- for everyone.

Stockholm’s Unique Museums

20171126-171745-62265432.jpg

Science, Art and History.

These are the museums that seem to appear in every city I visit. Many of them are great museums, with people doing great things! Several years back, I wrote very positively about the then relatively new History Colorado Center, and the recent trend where museums are increasingly including more interactive exhibits. At last summer’s TEDxMileHigh event, Chip Colwell, of the Denver museum of Science and Nature, gave an excellent speech about returning sacred artifacts to indigenous people.

However, sometimes I get more excited about visiting the museums that are more unique to a specific city. In Stockholm, there was no shortage of such museums. First, as pictured above, is the Nobel Museum, one that I would consider a must see!

IMG_1893 (1).jpg

It includes galleries with artifacts from past Nobel Prize winners, exhibits about the history of the Nobel Prize, as well as the life of Alfred Nobel. Visitors can also quickly look up the Nobel Prize winner for any year, in any category by going one of a series of kiosks associated with each decade.

IMG_1892.jpg

In case you need inspiration, there are moving banners flying around the museum, each one with a picture and short description of the work of one specific Nobel Prize winner. They are in what seems like random order.

There is also a video room, a place one can easily spend a couple of hours. Videos in this room tell the story behind many of the Nobel Prize winners and their work. My favorite story was the story of Linus Pauling’s discovery of the double helix (structure of DNA, the basic building blocks of human genetics). Trying to determine how the chemical compounds would fit together spatially, he started folding sheets of paper around, eventually folding them into the shape of the double helix structure, which we now accept as scientific fact.

IMG_1894 (1).jpg

It is hard not to admire scientific creativity after hearing a story like this one!

IMG_1905 (1).jpg

There are also very few places in the world with a museum dedicated to one single musical act. With acts like Aviccii, Tove Lo and Swedish House mafia, it is hard to dispute that Sweden, a country of roughly 10 million people, produces its fair share of musical acts who are popular worldwide. However, ABBA seems to invoke a special amount of national pride, enough for them to have their own museum.

Unlike the Nobel Museum, which is right in the center of the city, on Gamla Stan island, this museum is a little bit out of the way, on an island called Skansen. It is also a little bit pricier. However, the museum was fun. It took interactive exhibits to a whole new level. Each ticket gives attendees the option to take a try at singing, dancing, producing music videos, as well as things like trivia and operating a mixing board! It also had some information about other components of Swedish musical history, including the EuroVision competition, and all the concerts that have played, over the years, at an amusement park called Gröna Lund.

IMG_1926 (1)

I left the ABBA museum somewhat unexpectedly sad. I did not previously know that the band was made up of two married couples, and that at the end of their run, both couples divorced, and the four best friends just simply went their separate ways.

I guess this is the same reason people cry at movies, and get emotional about people who are not a part of their lives, like famous couples. I know in my head that life has chapters, sometimes it is just time to move on, and that being both married and in a band with someone can lead to a disaster.

It was still hard to emotionally contemplate. I thought of the excitement that comes with every new relationship. I thought of how happy they all looked, in the music videos and photographs shown in the museum. Then, I thought of the arguments, the emotional pain, the sadness and the loneliness, how something so good could go so bad. Maybe they were all mature about it. I know, though, it is always hard. I thought back to the breakups I had in my past, specifically those that were “mutual” and “clearly for the best”. Even those breakups, while not causing years of heartache still had their messiness; arguments, nights without sleep, etc.

Stockhom certainly has other museums that are unique. The city’s most popular museum is dedicated to a 17th century ship that capsized within minutes. I chose, however, to visit a museum dedicated to Photography.

IMG_1931 (1).jpg

This museum is interesting for three reasons.

1. It has no permanent exhibits; only temporary ones. This is an interesting concept, and a great way to appeal to locals.

This winter, there is a special exhibit dedicated to x-ray photography, something I knew little to nothing about before visiting this museum.

2. There may be more and more museums dedicated to photography in the future, as, although a century and a half old, photography is still relatively newer of a field than Art, Science, or History.

3. The museum actually boasts one of the best skyline views in the city, both from the riverfront outside the museum, as well as from the bar on the top floor!

IMG_1928 (1).jpg

20171126-163631-59791108.jpg

I believe there is something unique about every city I visit. Even the standard museums, the art, science, and especially the history museums showcase something unique to the city or region. Through visiting these places, we get an idea as to each place’s unique story. A part of Stockholm’s story is the story of Alfred Nobel’s writing a series of awards for human achievement into his will. It is the way local felt when ABBA won EuroVision 1974. It is also the photographs taken by local photographers displayed here every autumn.

Cultural Observations in Stockholm

 

20171126-162130-58890905.jpg
Setting out to observe a 3 P.M. sunset, in all its glory, is actually significantly more challenging than one would ever expect. Spending four days in Stockholm, I came to the realization that anywhere one would go in November or December where the sun sets this early is likely to be quite cloudy. While the sun did slip below the horizon right around 3, and the sky became pitch black before 4, each afternoon the sky pretty much appeared like this.

20171126-163631-59791108.jpg
There was no observation of the sun dipping below the horizon at 3 P.M., just a gray day fading gradually into nighttime.

Not only did 4 P.M. feel different here than anywhere I had ever lived, so did 8 P.M. Rather than feeling like the time the night was just beginning, when people were prepping up for their evening activities, getting ready, texting friends, etc., it felt like a lot later. I am not sure if this was 100% due to the fact that it had already been dark over four hours, or if it is due to cultural differences (when people leave work, etc.). However, at 8 P.M., it definitely felt like the “night”, whatever that entails, had been going on for some time and was approaching maturity.

20171126-164434-60274075.jpg
Stockholm is a city that parties pretty hard on Friday and Saturday evenings. Both evenings, in the area in and around the city center, including the areas around Central Station, and the Islands of Gamla Stan and Södermalm, there were plenty of people who were already quite intoxicated by 8 or 9 in the evening.

20171126-165059-60659634.jpg
This is one of several cultural observations I made while in Stockholm.

Of course there are ways to learn about the culture of a country or a region from afar. Travel books and other essays provide convenient cultural guides to places. Popular culture, music, movies, shows and such, also give people from afar a window into the culture of a place. However, I do notice time and time again, that there is no real substitute for actually going to a place and experiencing it for oneself.

For example, one of the things I noticed about Stockholm, the entire time there, was that people walk fast. It’s almost like the way it is in New York, and other large cities.

This is a prefect example of something needed to be experienced in person. While it is possible for someone to write, in a cultural guide or video, that people walk fast in a certain city, what that means can only be truly understood when experienced. The same can be said for New York.

 

Also, with the exception of New York, a city that seems to take pride in its high paced walking, it is easy to imagine a quick reference cultural guide which may focus on things like tipping or train etiquette, to not mention something like this. After all, did I really need to know how fast people in Stockholm walk prior to coming here?

I benefited more from reading about how Scandinavians dress. The casual sneakers, jeans and sweaters I wore all week did not stand out.

20171126-171745-62265432.jpg
In fact, I may have fit in too well. Despite the fact that people here are mostly fluent in English, most addressed me in Sweedish before I had to ask them to speak English to me.

Food is a significant component of any cultural experience. There is a reason why food makes a natural topic for travel shows. I couldn’t picture actually trying to experience the culture of a given place without trying the local food. I made sure I got the full Sweedish food experience, including the Skagenröra (shrimp salad), salmon, and various other fish dishes (Stockholm is a bunch of islands after all). However, I was surprised at how good their grilled sandwiches were. Specifically, many places throughout Stockholm serve various types of grilled sandwiches, all with some kind of cheese. Many of these sandwich did not include fish or seafood. Some were even vegetarian. They do an excellent job of melting the cheese on the rye bread, and this serves as a great lunch option for various types of people (as in, not everyone eats meat, seafood, etc.).

image

As an American, traveling abroad to places like this, it is hard for me not to feel at least a little bit guilty. American culture is harder to escape than I ever realized. Stockholm does have fast food as well. Most of it comes in the form of stands, similar to the hot dog stands found on the streets of New York. Given that most of the food in Stockholm is pretty expensive, it is almost necessary to have a couple of meals at one of those stands on any multi-day trip here, so as not to bust a budget. This was, however, the only place I encountered someone who did not speak English.

I also saw McDonalds and Burger King all over town. However, these establishments are at least somewhat different abroad than they are in the United States.

Perhaps my biggest disappointment was that I was unable to escape the tradition known as “Black Friday”. I was hoping, by virtue of not being in America, where thanksgiving is not a holiday, I would also not experience Black Friday. Well, apparently people do that here too. Maybe they don’t in less touristy parts of a country like Sweden. Maybe I needed to go somewhere with less tourists, and, also less people who speak English, to experience the actual culture of Sweden.

image

How much can anyone get to know about the culture of another country by visiting for just a short time? And not venturing outside of the City? I can see how a tourist can come to believe they have learned quite a bit about the culture of Sweden, or any place they chose to visit, by making an set of observations like these.

To me, my set of observations almost feels like how someone from abroad would judge the United States by simply spending several days in New York, our biggest city. The rest of the country i likely significantly different, in terms of pace of life, and how much they embrace ideas like Black Friday. However, just like the foreign tourist in New York, I did experience some things different from what I usually experience at home.

Christmastime in Copenhagen

20171122-003148-1908924.jpg

There is, perhaps, no better way to get into the spirit of Christmas than to find oneself surrounded by the ambience of the holiday, taking part in local traditions. Christmas may mean something different to different groups of people. Some focus more on the religious aspects of the holiday. Others on the secular. Still others celebrate different holidays altogether.

In central Copenhagen, where the spirit of the holiday can be seen all around, with decorations on buildings and streets.

20171122-010104-3664766.jpg20171122-010104-3664345.jpg

And numerous Christmas markets all over town offering holiday treats.

20171122-010217-3737620.jpg20171122-010217-3737184.jpg20171122-010218-3738052.jpg

The spirit becomes contagious. It is felt in the air. It is hard not to want to join in the traditions of the region. Eating nordic food, both new and old.

20171122-011125-4285759.jpg20171122-011125-4285311.jpg

And, of course, drinking gløgg, a warm spiced Scandinavian wine commonly drank on cold, cloudy winters days; particularly at Christmastime. It would be almost impossible to imagine myself here at this time of year without drinking it.

Denmark is known to be a happy place despite the weather, which is commonly cloudy and rainy, particularly in wintertime. In fact, it may even be because of the weather, as Danish culture has found some unique ways in which to cope.

20171122-011728-4648566.jpg

Hygge (pronounced hoo-ga), is a word we do not have a direct english translation for. It is happiness, in a friendly, slower paced, and cozy sort of way. Upon any reading or discussion of the subject, it becomes quite apparent how the weather has influenced the culture. Winter here means a lot of time spent indoors, in the dark. Spending it among good friends, eating good food, and removing oneself from the pressure of day-to-day life provides some form of rejuvenation.

20171122-013038-5438210.jpg

While Copenhageners spend a lot of time indoors at this time of year, it is apparent that they do not let the weather stop them from cycling. Despite the cloudy, and even rainy weather, and daylight that only lasts from roughly 8:30 A.M. to 3:30 P.M., there are still plenty of people on their bicycles, using them to transport themselves, and sometimes even other people and their cargo, around town.

As a cycling enthusiast, this is actually one of the factors that drove me to want to visit Copenhagen. It is by some measures the most bike friendly city in the world, and boasts one of the highest percentages of bicycle commuters. Perhaps because of the fact that nearly every street I encountered here in Copenhagen had some form of bicycle accommodation, it is a way of life here that cannot be stopped by the combination of darkness, rain, and temperatures in the lower 40s (around 5C).

20171122-014003-6003890.jpg

Besides what appeared to be the expectation of year-round commuting, I noticed several other manners in which the cycling culture here differed from what I see in the United States.

First, the bikes are different. I saw mostly cruisers not necessarily designed to go high speeds.

Second, cyclists here most certainly follow the rules. Nobody ran red lights.

And, finally, I also noticed that it is common practice here to leave bikes unlocked. I guess there is less worry about theft, but the idea of not locking a bike feels foreign to me.

20171122-014503-6303658.jpg

There is perhaps no place more iconic here in Christmastime than Tivoli gardens, one of the world’s oldest amusement parks.

The lights here, at night, are a must see for anyone who comes to Copenhagen at Christmastime, even for those who do not care for roller coasters.

20171122-014741-6461817.jpg20171122-014740-6460960.jpg20171122-014741-6461389.jpg20171122-014742-6462249.jpg

Recent reports have linked the lack of social support to unhappiness, poor health, and other bad life outcomes. The Danish people appear to take pride in their status as one of the happiest countries in the world, and, at least in part, attribute it to this concept of hygge.

According to the Little Book of Hygge, written by Meik Wilkins, the CEO of the Happiness Research Institute (which happens to be located in Copenhagen), hygge, while practiced all year long, is strongly linked with the Christmas season. The idea of taking a break from the stress of everyday life and spending time with loved ones is the core element of Christmas no matter where it is celebrated.

Often times the season for this is cut short. For many, some combination of pressure to complete end of the year tasks at work and holiday shopping keeps stress levels high for much of December. Experiencing Copenhagen in late November, with the spirit of Christmas already in full swing, I am inspired to make this entire season, not just a couple of days at the end of December, about giving, sharing time with those closest to me, and de-stressing.

Hell’s Hole: A Lesser Known Hike for a Busy Weekend

IMG_1116 (1).jpg

It would be hard to find a day, or an event, that brings about more mixed emotions for me than Labor Day….

I love the fact that Americans get a holiday, the first Monday of every September. I hate the fact that so many Americans get so little time away from the office and their other daily responsibilities that Labor Day weekend represents a rare opportunity for travel, leisure, etc. As a result, roads, recreations areas, National Parks, and tourist attractions are very busy the entire weekend!

The history of the holiday is complex and contested. It started as a celebration of the Labor Movement, whose original purpose was to stand up for fair treatment of workers in the wake of industrialization. Leaving out some more controversial opinions, let’s just say I appreciate the fact that there is a Labor Movement and a lot of what it has done, but I do not always appreciate every manner in which it manifests.

Over the years, the workforce changed, and the holiday kind of morphed. Today, the holiday is less about parades celebrating the American worker, and more about recreation, parties, events, travel, and outdoor adventure. It also serves as the unofficial end of Summer. Yet another mixed emotion. I love seeing people get out and enjoy the world. But, I am bummed that Summer is ending.

The crowds also necessitate some outside the box thinking. The National Parks will be crowded. So will many highways, and other high-profile destinations. With the weather typically being pleasant, the three-day weekend ends up being a good opportunity to visit some lower-profile destinations, particularly for those of us that are fortunate enough to get more than three opportunities (Memorial Day, Independence Day and Labor Day) for summer adventure and exploration.

IMG_1089 (1).jpg

Mount Evans itself is a fairly high profile destination. Just over an hour’s drive from central Denver, it can be reached by driving up the highest paved road in North America. People also commonly hike or even cycle to the top of the 14,264 foot peak.

The Mount Evans Wilderness is a 116 square mile are surrounding the mountain, with rugged terrain, many other peaks, and numerous other trails to hike and backpack.

IMG_1114 (1).jpg

Hell’s Hole (I have no idea why they call it that) is a trail that stretches a little over 4 miles (estimate vary depending on source, a common issue for hikes in Colorado) just to the West of Mount Evans.

Starting at an elevation just over 9500 feet, the trail climbs a total of roughly 2000 feet, making it moderate in difficulty- overall. However, that difficulty is not spread evenly throughout the hike. Most of the climb occurs in the first two miles, as the trail ascends, first through a forest of mainly Aspen trees, then into a dense forest of Pines. Near the top, the trees begin to thin, and Mount Evans, the giant 14,000 foot peak periodically appears through the trees.

IMG_1107 (1).jpg

At a moderate pace, one should reach the end of the trail in roughly two hours, with the second half of the trek begin more gentle in slope. The gentler slop still manages to top out close to the “tree line”.

IMG_1111 (1).jpg

Although the final mile and a half of trail offers periodic glimpses at the mountains in all directions, it is only the last quarter of a mile of the trail that is truly wide open. To get the full experience, I would seriously recommend hiking the entire length of the trail, which totals roughly nine miles round trip.

For some reason, it took until the second half of the hike, the descent back to the trailhead to notice any signs that summer was indeed coming to an end. An unseasonably hot day, reminiscent of mid-July, temperatures in parts of the Denver metro area hit 100F, and even weather stations near 10,000 feet in elevation peaked out above 80F. The entirety of the hike felt no different than mid-summer.

IMG_1122

Yet, hints of fall appeared, and were suddenly noticeable when the ascent was complete. Shades of yellow began to appear in the shrubs that often dominate the landscape just above the treeline.

IMG_1125 (1)

Further down, gold colors even began to periodically appear in the Aspens closer to the trailhead.

IMG_1123 (1).jpg

People often think of Labor Day as summer’s farewell, summer making one last appearance before ending. Of course, the weather does not always line up that way, and it is quite possible that many more hot days are still yet to come.

Emotionally, and sociologically, a lot more can be controlled. Most children have already returned to school. Those still on summer break will be back in the classroom shortly. Anyone on summer schedules or summer dress codes will return to normal within a week. For those in the most traditional types of corporate structures, the next holiday may not be coming until Thanksgiving (late November).

On the descent, we spent some time discussing topics related to work, finding purpose in life, and other topics that were less about travel and adventure and more about life at “home”. It was almost as if the weather, the physical appearance of everything around me, as well as the general mood, was lining up to serve the purpose Labor Day serves in the 21st Century; a farewell to summer before a new season takes hold.

For many, this new season represents a return to some form of structure, but could also represent new opportunities to learn, achieve, and reach the next level. In life, we all need breaks, time to do that in which we enjoy. We also need time to work, and get things done and serve other human beings. While our current society may not have found the right balance, that does not mean we need to shun work altogether, and not embrace the season that is to come.

Three Days Without Rules

One of the most reckless and euphoric weekends of my life had a bizarre beginning. As my flight was landing at Las Vegas McCarran International Airport, I removed my headphones. First, I hear the woman next to me, talking to her teenage daughter about how tired she was, having been traveling for 15 hours. “I’m going straight to bed as soon as we get home”. Less than half a second later, I hear the two guys sitting in the row behind them talking about something going on in their Vegas-bound lives. “She was seriously a hoe”.


I wondered what it’s like to live in a place like this. I visit Las Vegas regularly, but never think of it as a place where people live. Most visitors just think of it as some sort of crazy amusement park-like place of gambling and entertainment. Nobody thinks of people working, raising a family, and doing normal life things here, but it does happen.

Do people who live in Las Vegas just become accustomed to being surrounded by talk of partying, gambling, and debauchery, the same way New Yorkers don’t think much of crowds and pollution, and people in West Texas don’t think much of the smell of feedlots? How would one go about raising a daughter in this town?

The majority of trips to Las Vegas don’t go anywhere beyond the Strip. However, Vegas does have more to offer. Like most other cities in Western North America, Vegas is surrounded by mountains, and recreation opportunities.


Only half an hour West of town is Red Rock Canyon National Preserve, the most high profile place for hikes and scenic drives in the vicinity of Las Vegas.


Before getting mired in the standard Las Vegas activities, I explored the place a little bit, driving to a few scenic overlooks, and going for a moderate length hike.


It was a good opportunity to get a little sun and exercise.


And even draw on the rocks to gave myself some good vibes for my upcoming gambling.


After last year’s trip to Vegas, I concluded that “The common thread to everything that goes on here is that people are enjoying themselves, embracing their wild sides, in their own way, and letting go of at least some component of the restriction they live under during their normal lives…” This year, possibly due to my current frame of mind, I felt even more free spirited, even more liberated. It felt like ALL THE RULES WERE LITERALLY GONE!

 


Nothing felt off limits.

It was as if everything external that had been stopping me from ever doing anything was just gone. Expectations from others. Fear of bad outcomes. Even the law of averages.


I rolled for 30 minutes at the craps table, winning myself some money, but winning some others at the table some obscene amounts of money. Some even made bets on my behalf out of appreciation!

While there were a couple of places where I lost a little bit of money, the winnings just kept on coming. All three nights I won big!

 


The drinks just kept coming, free when gambling.


Unlike in normal life, hangovers never set in, and I never felt like sleeping.

Normally, if I sleep only six hours (as opposed to the usual 7.5) on a given night, I am drowsy. On this 72-hour binge of over-stimulation, 90 minutes felt sufficient.

The overall stats for the trip….

  • Three days in town
  • Approximately 75 alcoholic beverages consumed
  • Total sleep 7.5 hours
  • Approximately 26 hours of total gambling
  • Winnings of approximately $850
    • Nearly all of which was on $10 tables
  • Everything else: Well, as the saying goes “What Happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas”


Except my money! That comes back with me!

To make that happen takes self-restraint. When people win money in Las Vegas, Las Vegas tries to take it back! First, by getting people to gamble more through a combination of free drinks and making it difficult to find the exit to any casino. It takes some discipline to “Quit while you’re ahead”.


If one can leave the casinos without gambling away those winnings, Las Vegas will try to get it back on the Strip. I found out first had that Las Vegas has a way of spotting a winner. Maybe they can see it in people’s eyes, smiles, behavior and expressions of confidence. But they seem to know who is winning, and come after them.


Promoters trying to get people to go to clubs, sex workers, people trying to sell stuff both legal and illegal, even random strangers. They came for me, and, it felt like the more I won, the more aggressively they came. After the second night of wining, a promoter walked with my friend and I six blocks up the Strip trying to convince us to go to a strip club. After the third night of winning, I had to navigate through what felt like a mine field of sex workers who, when I told them I was good, responded “No you’re not, you’re alone.”


I did not need a set of rules, government involvement, societal pressure, or anyone watching over me to restrain from most of what Las Vegas was trying to get me to do. Nor did I have to take advantage of every single opportunity presented to me to feel as free spirited as I had felt in my entire life. I was liberated from external rules and expectations, not my own judgement. I confidently decided for myself what activities I wanted to take part in, without letting fear stop me, but also without letting fear of missing out (commonly referred to as FOMO) get met to do things I did not want to do or spend money I did not want to spend.

Going back to regular life after a weekend like this is difficult. Regular life, the average day, well there is no way it will ever compare.

Of course, this all was not in the least bit sustainable. My body could not handle even one more day of this. Anyone remotely close to my age seemed to be in suspended disbelief that I could handle what I did.

It is such as crazy mystery of life. Why are unsustainable habits frequently more desirable than sustainable ones? Why does it seem like the things we are told are good for us make us feel bad, and that the things that we are told are bad for us make us feel good? And why does the result of such things rarely seem to fit the narrative we are given?

I don’t profess to know everything about life, but this year I finally processed through a lot of what I had been observing over the past decade. We are taught so many things, through school, work, media, etc. about the way life is supposed to be lived. Assumptions are ingrained into our heads to the point where we do not even realize we are making them in our life decisions. These assumptions can, at times, be misguided, and even hold us back from making the most of our lives.

With no assumptions. With no “you should do this”, or fear of what happens when you “don’t do that”, life made more sense. It is just about getting over the fear of the unknown that lies beyond the divide. I do not know what is going to happen when I return to normal life. And, while I have no plans to run on two hours of sleep, or start drinking at noon, I do hope I can bring the confidence and spirit of self-determination back to “regular life” going forward. Many people look to rules to protect them. Like my weekend in Vegas, I would rather trust my own judgement to bring  me to the right outcomes.

Get Lost in the Rockies

IMG_0386 (1)

“Dispersed Camping” is a concept that is often foreign to those living in large metropolitan areas. It is camping without a campground. There are no numbered spots. There are no amenities such as outlets, washrooms, and an office that sells water and wood. It’s just people plopping their tents down wherever they can. It is the purest, and most rugged form of camping.

Colorado has an almost limitless supply of places where people can literally just find a spot and set up camp.

National-Forests-Map-CO

Spots for dispersed camping are usually found in National Forests, which cover nearly half the state. Specific details about which spots allow dispersed camping can be hard to find online, as each section of the National Forest system maps out their area differently. However, every section of National Forest has a significant amount of area where one can just set up camp. Many of these spots even have fire pits already set up by previous campers!

IMG_0357 (1)

During periods of heightened fire danger, it is common to for counties to issue fire bans or fire restrictions to limit the risk of wildfires. With fire being a major component of the camping experience, the status of these fire restrictions should be considered when planning any summertime mountain adventure that involves camping.

CO_FireBans_20170714

Colorado map of county fire restrictions as of July 14, 2017

There is, perhaps, no better place to start a Rocky Mountain adventure than Leadville, Colorado, which sits at an elevation of just over 10,000 feet in the central part of Lake County, a county where there happened to not be a fire ban in mid-July 2017.

colorado_topo_Leadville

Spawned from the mid-19th Century Gold rush, and rich with old west history, the town, in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, is tucked away between mountains that rise several thousand feet higher in every direction.

This includes the Sawatch Range to the immidiate West and South, where Colorado’s two tallest peaks; Mount Elbert and Mount Massive, sit.

IMG_0364 (1)

Only five miles to the west of town is Turquoise Lake.

IMG_0361 (1)

Expansive, beautiful, and protected by steep hills and dense forests, the lake stretches west, into the Mount Massive Wilderness, where densely packed trees and rugged terrain create a feeling of seclusion and wonder.

IMG_0398 (1).jpg

Wandering through the wilderness, trees partially conceal the tall mountain peaks. Like a well made movie preview, they reveal some, but not all, of what lays ahead for anyone wandering through the woods, whether on trail or off.

IMG_0400 (1)

Around every curve, the wilderness reveals what had been hidden between the trees.

IMG_0397 (1)

Streams reveal the source of the water that drains into Turqouise Lake below.

IMG_0401 (1)

Flowers of all colors pop out, tickling multiple senses, making the experience more vivid, more full.

IMG_0391 (1)

After roughly 90 minutes of hiking on the Highline Trail, which starts only a few miles west of Turquoise Lake, the trail climbs above the forest.

IMG_0405 (1)

Just below 12,00 feet, the trees disappear. Mountain ranges, are once again seen in every direction. The ground is surprisingly green grass, making the scene reminiscent of The Sound of Music.

At these elevations, with an atmosphere roughly 30% less thick than it is at sea level, the sun commands somewhat of a decieving presence, particularly in the months of June and July.

IMG_0411 (1)

Less deterred by the atmosphere, direct sunlight at these elevations can create an almost tropical feeling of warmth at temperatures that barely top out above 60F (16C), temperatures where some at sea level, under cloudy skies, would still be wearing jackets.

IMG_0352 (1)

Wandering through the dense pine forests that make up the Mount Massive wilderness, especially as daytime gradually faded into evening, it is easy to imagine being truly lost in the Rocky Mountains.

IMG_0350 (1)

Away from day-to-day life, hustle, drama and the like, I could not help but worry about the future. As soon as I got to the west side of Turquoise Lake (away from town) all cell signals disappeared. How long will this be the case? Are they working on connecting the whole world with Wi-Fi? If so, where will people go, to escape? To not be tempted to check their work email? Or see what was posted on social media?

The way I see it, people give up the conveniences of modern life to go on trips like this one for three reasons:

  1. Despite the fact that there is more physical labor (setting up tents, cooking, etc.), it is less stressful. There are a ton of modern life concerns that disappear in the woods (social status, money, etc.).
  2. It feels much less structured. Sure, there are patterns, but there is no calendar with a list of meetings, tasks, things to do. There are no set eating hours and itineraries.
  3. It feels more human. This is quite possibly the most significant one of all. Work and the digital age has a somewhat robotic of feel to it. We are expected to perform. We are often asked to follow sets of procedures. Emotions are not supposed to be shown. There are even places where people are expected to refrain from laughing and too much “socializing”.

If we ever get to the point where there is no place on Earth without data, WiFi, or some kind of connection to our normal stresses and responsibilities, I sure hope we have found another way in which to periodically disconnect. Or, at the very least, that most people’s attitudes about things such as mental health days, and expectations regarding work availability and how we set our priorities in life, will have changed.