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Little Pink Backpack October 15, 2014

Posted by Marc Troeger in Uncategorized.
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She gave me a smile and said hi as she sat down next to me at the bar.

I smiled back, twirling the wedding ring on my finger.  She seemed to be in her early 20s; attractive – a cute little hook-nose and bright blue eyes, dressed in jeans and a Washington Huskies hoodie.  Little pink earrings peaked out from her short, dark hair.

Many at the bar seemed to know her and called out her name “Hi, Stephanie!”  A few came up and gave her a hug.  One called out “Who’s your boyfriend sitting next to you?”  Stephanie giggled, covering her face.  The stool on her right was empty.  The stool on her left… was me.  I looked up confused and embarrassed.  Everyone at the bar gave me a friendly, affirmative smile.  The bar tender gave me a wink.

I travel most every week for my job.  I don’t like eating a “bag” dinner in my hotel room so, not being a big fan of “chain” restaurants, I seek out local pubs and restaurants for my nightly meals.  I usually end up sitting at a bar for my dinners as bar tenders can be a good dinner companion, whether I have a drink during my meal or not.

Tonight I chose a pub in a neighborhood a mile-or-so from my hotel.  It was simple and cozy.  Monday night football was playing quietly on the few TVs scattered around.  The bar was not too crowded- a friendly bunch of people, talking and laughing.  I found a seat and settled in.  A little later, Stephanie came in and sat next to me.

The bar tender brought Stephanie a big, purple crayon and paper place mat.  It was covered in games and puzzles.  Stephanie immediately went to work.

Intently, she focused on each and every puzzle, her tongue jutting out of the corner of her mouth.  Occasionally, a shock of hair dropped over her eyes.  She impatiently swiped at it as she continued to work away at the word phrases she was trying to solve.   Several times, someone would walk by, patting her on the back, offering words of encouragement.

Eventually, Stephanie solved all the puzzles on her paper place mat.  She raised her arms high in the air and shouted “Yeah!”  The bar, waiting, erupted in claps and cheers.  Stephanie beamed with joy.

“Her mom works next door at the Dollar General.” The bartender told me a few minutes later as he brought her an orange soda in a plastic cup.  The cup had a lid on top with a straw sticking out, little cartoon characters decorated the outside.  “Stephanie joins us when she finishes her volunteer work across the street.  We all look out for her when her mom works late on Mondays.”  “You’re in the lucky spot next to her tonight.  I can move you if you want.”

“No.” I said with a smile, “I’ll be fine.”  My dinner arrived and I began to eat.

For the next 10-15 minutes, people stopped by to say hi to Stephanie.  They asked how her mom was doing and wanted to know about her new job as a volunteer at the animal shelter.  Stephanie beamed as she told them about all the puppies and kittens she cared for.  She was especially excited to tell them of the mother cat who had recently given birth to 6 kittens.

As I was finishing my dinner, a woman came into the bar.  Several people greeted her as she approached. Stephanie jumped off her stool and threw her arms around her in a big hug.  “I finished the puzzles, mom!” She proudly exclaimed.

“That’s great, Steph!” her mom exclaimed.  “You are so good at those puzzles!”

Stephanie’s mom was middle aged – slightly overweight with a pile of bottle-blond hair curled on top of her head.  She wore simple tan, polyester slacks and a black collared shirt emblazoned with the “Dollar General” logo.  Her face was cheerful, though it showed a weariness that, surprisingly she wore with pride.  Her beauty showed through when she smiled- a smile she shared with Stephanie.

“I have a present for you.”  Her mom said as she sat on the stool next to her, placing a big, brown paper bag on the bar.

Stephanie’s eyes lit up in awe.  “Can I open it?” She asked.

“Of course!” her mom laughed.

With a giggle, Stephanie grabbed the bag and reached in, pulling out a bright, pink backpack covered in little blue and yellow butterflies.

As the brown paper bag drifted to the floor, the world in that little bar seemed to stop.  All eyes were on Stephanie.

Holding the pink backpack at arm’s length, she sat there stunned.  It was hard to describe her reaction.  It was the look a child would have if every amazing, magical moment happened at once, right before her eyes.  Utter joy at something so simple.

Around the bar, there was nothing but big grins on everyone’s faces and even a sparkle or two of a tear.  It was obvious they had seen this before.  And it seemed they couldn’t contain themselves as they saw it again.

Stephanie suddenly let out a squeal, jumped off her stool and began doing a little, twirly dance, all the while hugging her pink backpack tight.  “I love it!  I love it!”  She shouted.  She ran to her mom and gave her a big hug.

“Thank, you!  Momma!  It’s so pretty.  It’s such a cool backpack!  I love the butterflies!” Stephanie exclaimed.  She hugged it to her chest; eyes tightly closed a big, bright smile on her face.

Not to be selfish with her gift, Stephanie began running from person to person around the bar, showing everyone her pink backpack, pointing to all the little butterflies and the zippers and straps and pockets. “It’s so pretty!  I love it!” she kept telling everyone.

Eventually she made her way back to her stool and sat down hugging her pink backpack tight.  The colors matched the earrings she wore.

Looking over at me, she suddenly realized that I had not been included in her show-and-tell and moved closer to share her new treasure with me.  I felt honored to be included.

Stephanie showed me the butterflies.  I asked her how many there were.  She started counting and very soon lost track.  “There are too many to count!”  She exclaimed a bit amazed.

I asked her about all the pockets and zippers on her new backpack.  She proceeded to open them up and offered to let me help her explore.  I pointed out a place where she could keep her pens, and grabbed a pen off the bar and stuck it in the little pen pocket.  She giggled with excitement.  I pulled a business card out of my pocket and stuck it in a little clear pocket, showing her where she could keep her own cards and pictures.  She covered her mouth and laughed.  I found an old receipt and stuck it in another pocket.  Stephanie giggled even louder and clapped her hands.

The bar tender joined in handing me a stack of the puzzle place mats.  We tucked them into one of the bigger zippered pocket.  The purple crayon went in next along with a handful of bar coasters.  All at once, people up and down the bar were handing things pulled from pockets and purses.  A spoon made it next to the crayon.  A nail file fit into an empty spot along with a pack of chewing gum, a roll of mints, a plastic wrapped package of tissues, a tattered Washington Huskies mascot stuffed animal and even a few coins and dollar bills.  The little pink backpack began to bulge as more items were handed over to stuff into all its nooks and crannies.  Stephanie could hardly contain herself as she laughed and laughed, jumping off her stool, clapping her hands and doing her little, twirly dance.

It was when someone tried to stuff an old, tattered phone book into the backpack that Stephanie’s mom stepped in laughing.  “All right everyone!  That’s enough.  Thank you so much for adding all these treasures to Stephanie’s backpack.  With all this stuff, she won’t be able to carry the things she really needs in here!”

Everyone laughed and began returning to their drinks and conversations.

After a few minutes of talking with people around her, Stephanie’s mom turned to her. “Steph, sweetie, we need to go.  You have an early day at the animal shelter tomorrow and I have to open up the store in the morning.”

Without complaint, Stephanie grabbed her plastic cartoon cup of orange soda and finished it off with a slurp.  She grabbed her new backpack and slung it over her shoulder.  With a big smile, she went to each and every person sitting at the bar and offered big hugs.  I was not left out.

Hand-in-hand, Stephanie and her mom walked out the door waving.

As the door closed, the bar area became a bit quiet.  With smiling faces, there was a sudden need to stare into our drinks as everyone held onto the lingering echoes of laughter and squeals of joy.

Quietly, but so that all at the bar could hear, a voice spoke up “To that inner child in all of us.”  I looked up and many were raising their glasses.

I joined the toast and, with a little break in my voice added, “And to the one that sits beside us, too.”

Living your Passion September 21, 2014

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To understand what living your passion is all about, watch this inspiring video by Mickey Smith. You definitely won’t be wasting the 6 minutes it will take to view it.

Breathe more and Avoid McDonalds September 23, 2013

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This isn’t my post. It’s a post by Will Gadd. It’s more than a year old and has so much meaning. It’s not a person I aspire to be, but a lifestyle I aspire to attain. Actually, for anyone, it’s something we can all do, achieve and become. As he says (paraphrased), “Breathe more and Avoid McDonalds”

The original post is here ( http://willgadd.com/breathe-avoid-mcdonalds/ )

Breathe, avoid McDonalds. Jun 26, 2012/by Will Gadd/Making time to breathe./Eat Pho, not McDonalds.

I’m now 45 years old. A middle aged guy. My life has changed radically with each decade, and I’ve done a lot of stuff that isn’t really award-worthy. But there has almost always been one constant that I’m actually proud of: Nearly every single day I do something physical. I count every hour in motion as a victory. Every time I slip out of the house when the kids are asleep in the morning or evening and bike, hike, run, ski or just walk for an hour or two it’s a victory. You see, as someone smarter once figured out, an object in motion tends to stay in motion, and an object at rest tends to stay at rest. So if I stay at rest for more than a day or two then I’m likely to stay there. Screw that, I’ve got to keep in motion. I can see what happens to people when they stop moving. They die.

I figure the type of movement is less important than the movement itself. I see a super fat lady out walking up a steep hill on a street and think, “Damn, that must be hard. You are a legend. All the houses you’re walking past right now? They’re full of people who make excuses not to get out and walk. And you’re out here going at it. You’re my hero.” I never say this because I don’t want to seem patronizing, but I truly feel it. I see the old guy cranking the Grouse Grind and think, “I want to be you.” I value my stolen hour in the gym as much as I value a day in the mountains; a day in the mountains is easy once you’ve left the desk, but the day I had to fight for an hour at the gym was a victory over life’s demands. And every day in the mountains was surely a great day too…

I go through airports all the time and see what the North American “lifestyle” is doing to people. The farther south you go in North America in general the fatter people get. And airports are where nutritional truth is revealed; I just finished up a meal at an airport restaurant and spent some time perusing what other people were eating. As usual, the rather large dude had a massive plate of nachos, a fried burrito disaster literally dripping with something gelatinous, and a diet Coke. The skinny bastard had a beer, tacos, and left most of the chips (not me, I was hungry as hell and ate ‘em). I got onto the last flight of the day behind two large people carrying a bag full of licorice and other sugar; their kids were already super sized, and that just sucks for them. What sucks more is that huge parents and fat elementary-school kids are now the norm, not the exception. Something is wrong.

Look at the lineup to McDonalds in the airport or any food court and then look at the lineup at the “Edo” place. I guarantee the lineup at the burger (read burger with huge white bread bun, huge fries, huge milkshake/apple pie etc) stand will be far fatter than any other lineup (and the costs aren’t all that different so no excuses there). If you want to see what people truly eat study airport dining, it’s like watching life through a one-way mirror. And then look at the people who walk the stairs vs. ride the escalator, who stand on the conveyor belts instead walking. Things get real clear real quick: Eat shitty food and avoid exercise and you’ll stop moving and get larger. And once you get past a certain point it’s a lot harder to move (my hero lady aside). And if you stop moving you die. We’re all circling the drain every day of our lives; move faster and you stay farther from the hole for longer, like a marble in the sink.

But making time to breathe can be hard. You have to fight for it. I’m proud of the times I win the fight to breathe hard. Today I had three business meetings in two cities separated by an hour’s drive, plus the flight home. I got up early and had one of the best hour-long hike/runs I’ve had in years in the mountains near Ogden, Utah. I revel in the landscape of the American west; it’s literally intoxicating to me. The scrub oak, the smells, the dirt, I love it, and I would have missed it if I hadn’t gotten up early. As I struggled up to a ridge and then scrambled along the rocks and back down I felt life was beautiful in a way I would not have experienced if I’d lazed over breakfast instead of getting a coffee and moving. That’s all the time difference I really needed: coffee and go vs. sitting down. I ended my last meeting with just enough time to scrape in 45 minutes at the climbing gym on the way to the airport. Then it was a mad sprint to the airport, drop the rental car, do a “dry” shower in the airport bathroom, onto the flight. You think I’m bragging? I am. I hear people bragging about how many beers they drank the night before like it’s an accomplishment. Well it is sometimes, but I’m way more proud of every single day I’ve spent some time sucking oxygen hard than I am of the times I drank too much, slept in, wasted time sending useless but somehow important emails or whatever. Because as I look back at those wasted days there was almost always an hour or two I could have sliced out to get out and breathe. I hate those wasted days; I have never regretted working out, going for a walk, getting on a plane stinking, not once. In fact, I’ve loved every single experience. But we all try to be busy instead of being alive, be busy instead of getting out and breathing, be busy instead of being productive, be busy sending useless texts instead of walking in the woods with our kids or running there with our friends…. I do it too, but I’m missing the point of life when I let “busy” replace “breathing.”

And lately I’ve been hanging out with some people who don’t get the beautiful luxury of being able to just go out and move, whether it’s in the mountains or the gym or whatever. Their broken or malfunctioning bodies won’t let them. Yet they still fight for time outside in the sun, drink in the day, and exercise as best they can. If they can fight to literally breathe at all and still exercise, if the fat lady can get out the door and move, if the guy in the business suit can jam the stairs instead of the escalator just for the sheer hell of it then most of us have no excuses at all. Keep moving, keep breathing, keep the inertia on your side. Rest days should be a welcome anomaly, not a way of life. And avoid lineups with lots of morbidly obese people in them, it’s a sign of what the future looks like if you spend too much time in the same places… Airports, American chain restaurants and conveyer belts all move us closer to the drain hole. Keep the good momentum up. Life’s more fun when you move.

Adventures of Sleep… or lack thereof June 13, 2012

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Life is something you do when you can’t sleep.  - Fran Lebowitz

I’ve heard people say that when you get older, you don’t sleep as much.  That certainly isn’t going to be a change for me.  I don’t sleep very well.  I never have and probably never will.  Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t hate sleep.  It just doesn’t come to me very easy.

Maybe I just don’t sleep right.  That reminds me of what the comedian, Steven Wright once said, “When I woke this morning, my wife asked me, “Did you sleep good?” I said, “No, I made a few mistakes.”

Believe me, there are many times when I’ve wanted to sleep.  And sometimes it comes and sometimes it doesn’t.  Over the years I’ve tried over-the-counter sleep aids, herbal teas and meditation.  I’ve tried self-help books and special lighting as well as white noise or new age music.  I have even tried Ambien, which resulted in a failed, and somewhat comedic experiment with prescribed sleep aids. (hint: future blog post).

I don’t advocate anyone not sleeping.  I know people who, if they don’t have their 8-10 hours of sleep a day, they can’t function.  I also know people, like me, who can operate quite normally on 3-4 hours of sleep a night, for extended periods of time.  Studies have shown that sleep is healthy and necessary.  We all have our different tolerance levels for how much sleep we need.

My problem could be that, unconsciously, I carry this theory that sleep interrupts all that you want to get done in a day.  There’s just too much to do!  And maybe that’s it.  When I lie down at night, recapping the day, planning tomorrow and thinking about the next adventure, my mind gets carried away.  The thoughts of what’s next and what’s just over the horizon and what could “be”… that sometimes just erases sleep.

I’m a strong believer in what Dale Carnegie once said “If you can’t sleep, then get up and do something instead of lying there…”.

So, here am, doing something.  Sleep will come soon enough.

Totally Committed June 5, 2012

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“Getting to the top is optional. Getting down is mandatory.”
Ed Vestures, from his book No Shortcuts to the Top: Climbing the World’s 14 Highest Peaks.  

When climbing a mountain, getting to the top is optional. You can turn back at any time. Once you’ve reached the summit and shouted at the top of your lungs “I made it!” you have just made a critical commitment in your adventure.  You have to climb down. Climbing down is not an option. Climbing down is mandatory.

Though many of you might not take on adventures like mountain climbing, any adventure you do undertake requires a level of commitment nonetheless.

A few weeks ago, I went backpacking into the Paria Canyon with a several friends, including my friend Matt Walker from InnerPassage, who led the trip.

The Paria Canyon is an amazing place. Pictures can barely do it justice.  It’s one of those places where you just have to “be”.

For perspective… notice the little,
tiny person in the lower left hand corner.

Paria is located in southeastern Utah, along the Arizona border, just north of the Grand Canyon. It’s a magnificent slot canyon that starts out as a wide, dry (at least when we were on it) sandy wash that leads into an ever-narrowing canyon with over 1800 foot walls of striking mars-colored sandstone.   As you progress, through the canyon, the Paria River begins seeping as springs, up through the sand and through the sandstone walls. Eventually, you start crossing the growing river many times until you give up and begin walking through the river itself, up to your thighs in some places. At several points, the towering walls close in on you to the point where you can almost reach out your arms and touch both sides. Eventually, as you begin to exit the canyon, it opens up wide as you enter the desert, walking on ridges high above the Paria River, flowing below. Beautiful, dry and hot; Stark scrub and cactus all around; lizards running here and there with the occasional evidence of snake tracks as they sought respite from the hot, scalding sun.

To experience the full breadth of the Paria Canyon requires a commitment. You have to hike the full 38 miles, from the trail-head at the White House Campground, all the way to Lee’s Ferry on the Colorado River. It will take you four days of continuous hiking (or, tack on a few more if you just want to take your time).

You see, the full beauty of Paria Canyon doesn’t really begin to make its appearance until the second day when you’re halfway into the canyon. To get out, you have to hike the other half, or return to where you started; same distance, two more days either way. Getting out is not an option. There are no other trails out, because the canyon walls are too high and too steep.  A Paria adventure requires a commitment, that, when done with care and caution, and the proper experience, can be a trip of a lifetime.

While you don’t have to scale a mountain or spend four days, backpacking through steep canyons for your own adventure, you do have to make a commitment, taking advantage of the opportunities presented you. An adventure is what you make of it, and the stories you can tell along the way.

Nitchevo April 10, 2012

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Early in my career as a college admissions officer, I was fortunate to be selected to spend part of a summer at the Summer Institute on College Admissions at Harvard University.  While the purpose of the institute was to develop and grow future University admissions officers, its intent was to also provide a more in-depth understanding of the value and breadth of higher education.  As part of the preparation for the institute, there were required readings and papers to write.  One of the books assigned was “Tuning the Rig”, written by Harvey Oxenhorn, a former professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.   Though it would never be considered a best-seller, it is a book I reread often, because it reminds me of my own attitude towards life.

The book is about the author’s experience of forgoing a typical summer of research and scholarly endeavors, to spend it aboard an old, tall sailing ship, the Regina Maris, with a rag-tag crew, studying humpback whales in the Arctic Circle.  Harvey did not have any sailing experience, nor did he know much about humpback whales.  He did know that something was lacking in his life, even from within the walls of the ivory towers of academia in which he had spent a good portion of his adult life.  His book is about his adventures and frustrations and everything in between, but more importantly it addresses the discovery of what brought him to the open sea.

Towards the end of the voyage, Harvey recounts when he approached the captain of the Regina, George Nicholas.  He wanted to know why someone such as George would give up a successful medical career to become a captain of a ship, studying and teaching marine science as well as running a sailing crew.  The Captain’s response wasn’t what Harvey expected, but it ended up putting the entire trip into perspective for him.

Read on… Does “Nitchevo” apply to you?

I wondered what leads a man to give up his own research, and a deanship at Harvard Medical School to spend so much time at sea aboard Regina in cramped quarters in the company of students. “What’s the allure?” I asked.

“The allure of life at sea, I suppose, is its simplicity. On shore – especially in institutions-things are dependent on so many factors that the end results of what you do are nearly always out of your control. Nothing is ever quite completed. This life has its own discomforts and frustrations, to be sure. But the way things turn our here is a direct result of what you do, your own skill and judgment. And there’s a way to gauge each day’s success; you can mark it off with a pencil on a chart, as progress toward a goal.”

You mean there’s objectivity.”

“That”-he jabbed his finger at the sea-“is real. It’s there. It will fascinate you. It can feed or kill you. But there’s nothing mean about it, nothing wasteful.”

“What about it translates to our life on shore?”

“Mortality”

Pat [a crewman] interrupted. We are back in commercial shipping lanes; he had the watch and was concerned about a freighter that seemed to be bearing down. “I’ve been keeping an eye on them, “George said. “It’s OK. They just want a closer view.”

“Do you know the expression nitchevo?” he asked, once Pat had gone. “It’s a Russian word. Means ‘What the hell!” I shot him a dubious look.

“Well, more or less. Anyhoo, it describes an attitude toward life. You’ve got it. So do most of the kids on board. I suspect it’s what most of that bunch in Cambridge whom you run with-or sometimes think you run with-lack. They’ve got it all planned out: lifestyles, careers. If they could, they would abolish weather. But they are missing something, Harvey. Nitchevo! They never learned how to go out on a limb. They’re afraid to make mistakes.“

A lighthouse loomed off the starboard bow. Cabot Island, Bonavista, Baccaliue…This one was Cape St. Francis. Every point’s now labeled; we are nearing home.

“Are you taking about work of play?” I asked

“It’s interesting that you should say that. You remind me of something my father once said and when I was about your age that made a big difference in my life as I got older. He said that a lot of folks spend most of their lives doing one thing in order to be able to do another. They are always trying to get through what they are doing to ‘make time’ for something else, and they wind up resenting both things.

“But life doesn’t work like that. The only way not to resent the expenditure of time and effort is to devote yourself to the one activity you don’t want to get through. You should choose as your life’s work whatever feels most like play.”

Tuning The Rig by Harvey Oxenhorn

Opportunity = Adventure February 17, 2012

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Most people looking at this picture wouldn’t think much of it, aside from the fact that it shows a person rock climbing. But, look a little closer and you’ll see a lot of desire and an opportunity.

There are many people who have no desire to go rock climbing. That’s OK. The sport is not for everyone. For others, they may have the desire to try rock climbing, but have never been presented with that opportunity. Personally, I enjoy climbing, though, because of my busy schedule and the locations where I live and work, the opportunity is not always available to me.

That’s a funny thing about opportunity. In general use, the word tends to reflect something positive and moving forward with a task or a goal. Unfortunately, for a lot of people, opportunity has more of a negative effect; it tends to hold them back from accomplishing what they desire because they are waiting for the opportunity to present itself. If they’re lucky, that will happen. But, if a desire is strong enough, waiting isn’t an option, you will seek opportunity out.

That’s what this picture is all about. An opportunity presented itself. My mom always had the desire to try rock climbing. For her, the opportunity didn’t present itself until she was 75 years old. Ignoring her age and acknowledging her desire, she jumped at the chance.

You go, girl!

What is your Land of Beyond? January 30, 2012

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Robert Service was a poet who became popular writing verse about the Yukon gold rush in early 1900. He is often referred to as “the Bard of the Yukon” and is best known for his poems “The Shooting of Dan McGrew” and “The Cremation of Sam McGee”, from his first book, Songs of a Sourdough.

My personal favorite is one of his shorter poems, written as an ever-so-lightly jest to the dreamers, yet a very powerful message to those who seek adventure. Even though I have this poem memorized, I still carry a copy of it wherever I go, always rereading… always seeing some thing different in the words… always encouraged to keep my eyes on that “land of beyond”… always reminded that it’s not about where you are going, but what you have before you.

Read this poem once, twice, many times! Digest it and consume it. And then come back for more, always asking yourself, “What is my land of beyond?”

Land of Beyond
(by Robert Service)

Have you ever heard of the Land of Beyond,
That dreams at the gates of the day?
Alluring it lies at the skirts of the skies,
And ever so far away;
Alluring it calls: O ye the yoke galls,
And ye of the trail overfond,
With saddle and pack, by the paddle and track,
Let’s go to the Land of Beyond!

Have ever you stood where the silences brood,
And vast the horizons begin,
At the dawn of the day to behold far away
The goal you would strive for and win?
Yet ah! In the night when you gain to the height,
With the vast pool of heaven star-spawned,
Afar and agleam, like a valley of dream,
Still mocks you a Land of Beyond!

Thank God! there is always a Land of Beyond
For us who are true to the trail;
A vision to seek, a beckoning peak,
A fairness that never will fail;
A pride in our soul that mocks at a goal,
A manhood that irks at a bond,
And try how we will, unattainable still,
Behold it, our Land of Beyond!

Adventure in the Little Things January 13, 2012

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Ten years ago, a good friend lost her battle with cancer. It was heartbreaking to many of us. Karen was an inspiration to her family and friends, and, with her work with the Helsinki Commission, the world.

Karen was also someone who was full of passion and experienced many adventures throughout her life. I was fortunate to have been able to join her on a number of those.

Even as cancer began to take a toll on her body, she still held a strong conviction that remission would come. During this time, she insisted on experiencing the world as much as she could.

One warm, Fall day, a group of us took a hike along the Hazel River trail, in the foothills of the Shenandoah Mountains, an hour’s drive from Washington, DC where we all lived. Even though the trail was a level stroll along the river, Karen eventually began to tire and we decide to turn back. As the others walked on ahead, I stayed with Karen at her slower pace. Eventually, she asked to rest, so we sat on the banks of the Hazel River, under a large, oak tree.

Always being the curious one, Karen began poking at the ground with a stick and overturning small logs and rocks. I still remember the child-like amazement on her face and the laughter of delight as she uncovered many different bugs, worms and other insects. I joined in the discovery. The others soon came to find out what was keeping us. They, too, sat down and joined us in the search for the “little things” as Karen called them.

Eventually, the search waned and Karen soon dozed off under the tree; someone went off to wade in the river; the rest of the group sat on the riverbank, talking quietly and enjoying the beautiful day. At some point, someone pointed to the time and the sun that was lower on the horizon. Rousting Karen, she arose from her nap, deeming herself rested and we continued our short journey to the car.

As we approached the car to settle in for the ride back to the bustling city, Karen stopped us. With a tear in her eye and her impish, crooked smile, she gave each one of us a hug and thanked us for the days adventure. It was one of those images that burns itself into your brain, of a friend who is long gone, but forever part of your life.

For Karen… for us, regardless of our situation, adventures still abound, even in the “little things”.

What’s been your adventure today?

House of Representatives Tribute to Karen S. Lord )

Good Adventures, No Matter the Outcome January 12, 2012

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Race NumbersThis picture was taken in my garage. It shows some of my race numbers that I wore in mountain bike races I have taken part in over the past several years. Several of them are from the 24 Hours of Snowshoe race where my teammates and I completed as many circuits, up and down Snowshoe Mountain, in West Virgina, over a 24 hour period. The other numbers are from the Iceman mountain bike race held each early November in Traverse City, Michigan. Snow, ice, cold, rain, mud and mayhem is an expected element as you participate in this race.

What none of these numbers have attached to them are trophies or winning ribbons. That has never happened and most probably never will. You see, my passion has never been to become a pro and win the race. That’s someone else’s passion. Mine has always been to enter the race and finish, all-the-while having a great time doing it. And I have always been successful at that… until this year. This year I did not finish.

Two-thirds into this year’s race, my rear dérailleur snapped off and got caught up in my spokes, stretching my shift cable and snapping my chain. As much as I tried, I wasn’t going to be able to perform successful, trail-side surgery on that bike. A little later, a support truck delivered me and my broken bike back to the campsite where the rest of my team was celebrating their finishes and waiting for my return. Frustrated and humiliated, I dropped in a chair and related my mishap.

Sitting there, feeling sorry for myself, my friend Pete walked up and shoved a beer in my hand.

“Cheer up, Buddy!” he exclaimed. “Did you have fun out there?”

“Well, yeah, until my bike failed me.” I replied, a bit glumly.

“Then that’s what it’s all about; getting out there and having fun! None of us came expecting to win. We came to ride!” he said as he slapped me on the back.

I looked up at him and couldn’t help grinning. “You’re trying to push your Zen mountain biking crap on me again, aren’t you?”

Pete was always pushing his “be-in-the-moment-when-you-ride” philosophy on us. His idea of a good race is the one where he makes friends along the course or stops several times during the event to help other riders who have broke down. He rides for the experience, for the adventure.  It sometimes takes a good buddy to remind you of that.

“You bet!” Pete said as he clinked his beer bottle into mine in a toast of agreement.

I sat back feeling a little better and began to enjoy the company of friends, joining in with them as we recounted our anecdotes and stories of the race.

Good race. Good ride. Good Adventure, no matter the outcome.

 

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