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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.

 

Her Race… Her Story January 5, 2012

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My wife was doing consulting work in the Greenville, South Carolina area which required her to be there over New Years. Instead of letting her celebrate alone, I surprised her by flying down that weekend to be with her.

In support of my endeavor of “50 Adventures”, my wife asked to join me on my first adventure: a New Year’s Eve Resolution 5K race in Anderson, SC. While the race started before the stroke of midnight, the ending results and festivities carried over to the New Year, and, with my wife by my side, it made for a very special start to this grand adventure.

Both my wife and I completed the race with respectable times (though, we later found out the vehicle that was pacing the leaders took a wrong turn and cut the race short by about three tenths of a mile!). Later, while we waited to celebrate the stroke of midnight with all the other finishers, a woman crossed the finish line huffing and puffing… excited and beaming… with a Cheshire Cat smile… on crutches. The crowd clapped and cheered; many hugs and pats on the back. The woman was elated and excited, tears in her eyes. A companion, who had stayed with her along the way, gave her several high-fives.

I couldn’t help the smile breaking across my own face. Her race… her adventure… her own story to tell. That’s what an adventure is all about.

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