2018 Hiking gear list

This post is about the gear I’ve settled on for 2018 and the hike in September. As I’ve written about earlier, I’m learning as I go but that’s half the fun. It’s also about “daring greatly,” a book my friend Stephanie steered me toward when she put Brenee Brown on my radar during a great dinner she, Eddie and I shared at Barcelona at the end of Spring. 

I picked up a copy of “The Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide” during my last trip to Portland in 2016 on a stop at Powel’s. Right off the bat, it gave me a reality check. Talking about are you a camper or a hiker and what the differences are. Truth be told, I would qualify myself as 70% camper and 30% hiker at this point. But I have a giant leap coming up in September of this year as my best friend Doug and I are set to hike 50 miles through the Hoh Rainforest all the way to Hurricane Ridge in the Olympics. 

As a result, I have put together a training plan, which I will write about later, along with taking a long hard look at my backpack and its contents which is the subject of this post. It turned out, that only a few things from my 2017 backpack survived. I donated the rest of my old gear to a local boy scout troop leader who said it would be put to good use. Following is a list of items, and some notes, that I’m currently packing for both camping and hiking trips through the Summer months to see if this is the gear that I will be taking with me to Washington in September. 

Shelter 

I have two options currently. A one person Kelty Gunnison 1 tent and a hammock/tarp rig. Even with just one hammock experiences under my belt, I can already tell I am developing a preference for this mode of shelter over the tent style. Still, the Big Agnes Sleep Pad really does make for a comfortable nights rest and it’s not as bad to inflate as I thought it would be. The challenge though, as with all of this, is learning things. In the case of hammock, it’s tying knots. 

Cook kit & food 

I’m a JetBoil guy through and through. Still, I am intrigued with cooking over a campfire and a skillet but those are still experiences I have to learn. As far as dehydrated options go, my diet requires a low sodium, low sugar and as low fat as humanly possible track. Fortunately, there are a few companies who I am lined up with right now. Packit GourmetOut Door Herbivore and Good To Go. These folks do things pretty well diet wise and the food they make is pretty damn good for something you rehydrate in a bag over 30 minutes to cook. My guilty splurge however is the Chicken and Dumplings by Packit Gourmet. It’s not technically within my sodium guidelines but it’s so damn good. 

Clothing 

I totally used Andrew Skurka’s guidance in his book “The Ultimate Hikers Gear Guide” here. He talks about four categories that you want to plan for. The “go suit,” “storm,” “stop,” and “sleep.”  

For my go suit, I have one for three season use. The underwear I chose are from my running races days. I have a couple pair of these great technical boxer briefs that reduce chafing and promote dryness by 2UNDR. For colder weather I bought the Patagonia Cap MW Zip Neck long sleeve top, Cap MW long john style bottoms, and the Tropic Comfort Hoody II (which is lightweight enough for chilly nights at camp). Socks? I got the REI smart wool basics. The pants I chose are another Patagonia piece called the Quandry series. I like these because they are super lightweight and breathable. For warmer days I picked a sleeveless tank DAKINE Triplet Loose Fit Tank which breathes well, looks decent and feels super comfy. The boots I picked up are Salomon X Ultra 3 Mid GTX Hiking Boots. For camp shoes, and river crossings, however I have a pair of pretty great sandals I picked up in Portland back in 2015 when Doug and I climbed up to McNeil Point on Mt Hood. And for really hot days, I usually bring a pair of “ranger panties” which I normally use for running shorts. Modesty aside, these things are amazingly comfortable. 

My storm suit is by Frog Toggs and is the lighter weight rain suit they have for about $25. I’m not looking forward to wearing this but I imagine I will be glad to have when I need it. 

My stop suit right now is again from my running days which comprises of a pretty great wind breaker from New Balance. While not good for Winter, and I definitely need to invest here as the temperatures start to drop, I think it will be good with all my other base layers on plus my hoodie and rain gear if absolutely necessary. That aside, I do have a warm skull cap, some wool gloves and a camo Outdoor Research Army cap for the sun. 

Sleep suit? Um… I use the one my mom gave me. Naked. Just my preference. 

Electronics 

I’m sort of tight on money right now so I am not sure if I will be able to get one the SOS GPS satellite devices I want to get this year. New car, tattoos, life and everything else there. But one of these things is definitely on my radar. 

What I have though is a camp lantern with a built-in battery to charge from that Doug sent me. A Black Diamond headlamp from my running days. A solar charger and battery by Anker. A Samsung Galaxy 7 Active phone and, as a luxury, a Kindle. Well that and my Fitbit HR II to track my biometrics I suppose. 

Sleep gear 

This of course varies depending on whether I am tenting or hanging in a hammock at the end of the day. For tenting I use either my Therm-a-Rest RidgeRest SOLite Sleeping Pad when I am going a little lighter or my new Big Agnes Insulated Air Core Ultra Sleeping Pad (which is super comfy). The sleep sack I chose was the Big Agnes Thunderhead SL Sleeping Bag: 30 Degree DownThis thing is great. No zippers just fasteners to secure the fit. Super light weight and compactable. This was a splurge for me money wise at $250 but, so far, it’s been damn worth the price. I’ve used it as a top quilt in the hammock and as a bag in my tent. I’m really impressed at how versatile this thing is. 

For hammocking I will eventually buy an under quilt. For now however, I am using a wool Army blanket with a lightweight rubber exercise mat that is super flexible and conforms to the hammock and my body very well. 

Navigation 

Some of us are not gifted directionally. I’m one of those guys. If it weren’t for GPS, and a sense of humor, I’d be a very sad hiker. Also, with my budget a little tight, while I want the Garmin inReach Explorer+ 2-Way Satellite Communicator, I will probably pony up the funds for the Garmin inReach Mini 2-Way Satellite Communicator (and a $40 off card). I can’t deny that I need to let people know where I am, that I can’t navigate worth a damn or that I may very well be in an SOS situation … which is kind of the point of all of this anyway. Facing fears and learning to live again. “Life is why” as the saying goes. 

My brother has offered to try to teach me what he can about using a map and a compass so I plan to take him up on that offer at some point as a potential backup to my reliance on technology and humor. 

Trekking poles 

This was kind of disappointing as I bought the REI Co-op Passage Trekking Poles – Pair, in pirate black mind you, and on my first use the fastener broke. Rude awakening here, that’s not covered under REI’s warranty but “satisfaction” is. Which made my husband laugh as he asked me if I was satisfied. Yeah, so I have one pole right now and I will be replacing these with something else in the near future. I definitely don’t endorse these. 

Hydration 

Only people who really know me understand how absolutely phobic I am about germs. I can go from good to disaster in three easy steps when reading about viruses or bacterial or tick born diseases. So the prospect of drinking from a water source that does not come from a tap and gets filtered in my home purification system scares the shit out of me. But, When in Rome and on the note of facing fears…. here I am. I bought a Sawyer Mini which I am using with a couple Smart Water bottles to filter water on the path. This will be our backup system on the Washington trek as Doug opted for a much nicer system for his needs. 

Small essentials 

These include a stuff sack with my first aid kit, Swiss Army, the Deuce poop shovel, body wipes, small shammy style body towel, fire starting kit, toothpaste, toothbrush, medications and so on. 

A note on heart disease 

My aunt Lora told me once that a disease takes part of you away. But that it also gives you some gifts in exchange. Sort of like Lance Armstrong when I read one of his books. He talked about having a football player build but then cancer ate that part of him away and he ended up with a much slender version of a mans body as a result which helped him to achieve what he did as a cyclist.  

Because of my heart attack, and daily battles with anxiety, I found the courage to go back outdoors. Am I green? Fuck yes. But it’s part of the journey that I am enjoying right now. As a volunteer moderator on the AHA Support Network I often times see people who have just had an event and ask the desperate question of “when will I find my new normal?”  

I am in a golden place right now. My first heart attack was treated quickly and left very little physical damage. The emotional damage, however, has been significant. Choosing to run races was my first attempt to push back. Camping and hiking is now another. I want to have the same flexibility that I see in some of these bad ass men and women who have survived incredibly debilitating events where they find themselves one day strong and the next exhausted after a simple shower. That’s the fear that constantly sits beside me every day. It terrifies me. Yet, as my meditation practice is teaching me. I am striving to be a better observer and nonreactor. That’s my path toward living again. 

Just the same, I am in contact with my family Dr and cardiologist in preparation for all of this. The advice is to listen to my body. But also to life my life the way I want to. It’s not just about the disease. It’s about quality of life and the purpose we realize. Which is the real reason I am going to hike through the Olympic Mountains with Doug. I am going to be with someone I love on a journey that will be difficult for both of us and something to remember. 

Just like my tattoo work I am doing right now though, I have no idea if I will have life enough to finish the full upper body work I started last year. But it’s a damn good way for me to mark the passage of time. A day I didn’t have a heart attack. An experience that transformed how I think about the world and myself. Connection through story telling as it were. 

One of my favorite songs is Marrakesh Express by Crosby Stills & Nash. It takes me back to the days when I was in forestry school while I was in my early 20’s. The idea of the line from this song though…  “Hope the days that lie ahead bring us back to where they’ve led.” Well, it feels like a future tattoo. It feels like the hike up to Mc Neil Point. It feels like kissing my husband Eddie for the first time. It feels like the meaning of life to me. For now? I am drawn outdoors and this is the kit that I have put together. Rusty and not 100% prepared or not, here I am and ready to go. 

Posted in outdoors

Tools for dealing with anxiety

[This post is an adaptation from a response I left for a much younger man in his early 30’s who experienced a heart attack recently. Having dealt with anxiety for the past three years, I thought it worthwhile folding this into my own blog for searchability sake.]

Intro

Anxiety was one of the “gifts” that my heart attack left me with 3 years ago. It was during working through that when I realized, with my shrinks help, that my Type A, “highly functional” GO! GO! GO! mindset has been a way for me to numb myself to an underlying anxiety disorder all my life. While I don’t get major panic attacks, I do have a physiological reaction to anxiety that causes my brain to seize up in what one of my Dr’s called “disaster thinking.” When that happens, it takes days, sometimes weeks for me to break out of that cycle. It’s exhausting. I’ve been to ER twice as a result of this. Following are some of the lessons and tools I use to manage myself.

Tools

Meditation

This sucked at first. I didn’t understand what it was to meditate. Like others before me, I also used Calm. The app taught me that all I need to do is sit down for 10 minutes a day, or as often as you can toward creating a pattern and just listen to yourself breath. This is where I think most people go wrong. We tend to think that meditation means “clearing your head.” Well, that’s not it. The point of meditation is to sit down. Count your breaths, inhale, count one, exhale, count two. Repeat. All the while you are bombarded with 1000 thoughts. That’s OK. It’s the millisecond where you see those thoughts and then your body tells you to exhale, you count, and that’s where meditation lives. The return to your shift in thoughts away from the noise and back to the breath. Over time, this can help to remap our minds to rely less upon disaster thinking and more on something that actually helps us to learn how to observe without reacting.

Think about that last line. This is helping me to observe my anxiety while returning to my calm self. Not clear minded or enlightened or anything fancy. But back to me and away from the firetruck alarm bells that constantly wail in my mind. Again, this is over time, but studies and medical pros say that this, like prayer for those who are religious, help to control anxiety and depression.

Exercise

Daily walks, running, yoga, hiking, strength training. Does not have to be fancy, but a regular routine and achieving a level of fitness helps to keep my head clearer. Gives me a healthy structure that work like guard rails which tell me that I am doing what I can to live a healthy life.

Mantras

My last counselor taught me about mantras. Little sayings you can repeat in your head to further train your mind away from the anxiety neural pathways, and more toward courage, acceptance and strength. The two I use often times are these:

  1. Since I am a chronic overachiever, “I am enough”
  2. And for when anxiety grabs tight, “I am bigger than my fears”

Breathing exercises

I use these in meetings all the time. My job is to argue with people about technology. It’s fun but sometimes my mind gets the better of me and I walk that dangerous line where my head wants to explode… which isn’t good for my blood pressure. Hence, breathing exercises. From what I have been told, these help lower your blood pressure, lower your heart rate and actually clear your mind.

This is what I do, however, there are more formal exercises you can practice.

  1. Inhale counting 3
  2. Hold counting 3
  3. Exhale counting 3
  4. Hold counting 3
  5. Repeat for about 5 to 6 reps

The nice thing about this is that you can do it during whatever else you are doing and no one really knows except for you.

Personify Anxiety

My first counsellor taught me this one. As per usual, I just looked at him like he asked me to put on a dress. WTF?

He told me that if you try to think of anxiety as a person, then you can have a conversation with it. I resisted at first. It was just too granola bar for me. But, I ended up working with him and it turned into an exercise where I would picture the anxiety as my mom circa my teenage years. She would come and check in on me during moments when that was the last person I wanted to see. I knew she loved me so it was not a bad thing. I checked in with her then asked for my privacy back. The idea is that anxiety is not necessarily a totally bad thing. We make it a bad thing when we don’t let it go.

“Get Help”

I’m a comic book fan and follower of the Avengers movies. There’s a scene where the hero Thor and his brother Loki are fixing to escape from a bad situation and they decide to use a childhood prank to break free of the guards. They call it “Get Help.” All kidding aside though, I hated the idea of seeing a professional. Talking about my feelings and droning on about what is wrong in my life. My mindset was that I could solve every problem on my own and I did not need some shrink to help me.

Wrong.

Don’t be all macho, work on opening up to others, being vulnerable as Brene Brown touts in her awesome 20 minute Ted Talk.

I’ve worked with two professional counselors since my heart attack and they have really done nothing less than taking a crowbar to my, once, very closed off mind toward learning how to cope with myself. To work through the grief process of having had a heart attack and being faced with the absolute fact that I am going to die and I probably know how it’s going to happen. Another thing I worked through were some devices, some listed above in my tool section, to personify and manage the anxiety and use it more in a positive way rather than a negative one.

Secondly, I talked to my GP about the event when I would need to have a medical plan to treat my anxiety. We have that ready to go as a backup in case things get worse. So far I have not had to pull that lever. But I’ll tell you, it reminds me of a line from a movie where the main the scene is something where the hero is about to go boldly forward and the terrified person talking to him tells him he’s worried. I think the line went something like “I never worry because that means you suffer twice.” Meaning, death only comes once but you can torture yourself over and over again. There is no shame in getting medical treatment for anxiety.

Lastly, try to think of your Dr’s, mentors, loved ones and friends as teammates. They have a vested interest in your quality of life. Don’t forget that they genuinely care about you. When a team works together, it wins.

Learning to live again

This has been something which has evolved over the past two years. My first year I freaked out. I went vegetarian. I started running races. 5k’s, 10k’s, 15k’s, half marathons, 20 milers… there goes my “overachiever” thing again.

This morphed into traveling all over the place, wherever I could, through 2017. This changed into camping and ultimately hiking for me. Getting back outdoors.

My hike to McNeil Point on Mount Hood 2015 two months after my heart attack.

Why camping? Well, I live two blocks from my hospital. I work in the same zip code. I am always around help. Not so much in the Olympic Mountains. If something happens out in the wild, it can take up to 48 hours for help to respond to the satellite GPS transponder. In short, I will probably be a goner. It does not have to be that extreme however. This is my vehicle for facing fears. Learning how to draw the line about what I should and should not worry about. I’d rather be the guy who worries about having enough water along a trail rather than whether or not I am going to have a heart attack.

To close this overly long post, find your way. This journey is individual for all of us because we are all different. We do however share a common bond. Life.

If for no other reason, we should dedicate all that we are toward being free from our inner demons. Choosing light over darkness. Living well, being vulnerable, getting naked, having fun and laughing with others and at ourselves for the sheer joy of living.

Posted in personal

Gratitude for the now

I wrote a lot about gratitude in 2016. This is the same topic that came up earlier this year as far as jotting down few notes every day toward recording the things for which we feel grateful. I took that to heart and now take a few minutes every day to do just that. What I have learned over the past few months has been subtle but interesting.

My workouts have pretty much been running for the past few years now. This summer, however, I downshifted to a degree and got my husband on board with me to take nearly 3-mile morning walks together. My thought was that it would be good for his back, good training for my hike at the end of summer through the Olympic mountains (I am wearing a weight vest during these walks) and some good clear headed couple time where we could talk, reflect and prepare for the day ahead. Honestly, it’s been pretty great.

Yet there are times when I still get the itch to go for an all-out run in my “ranger panties” with some good music in my ears. I love those times. Especially when it rains during the summer. It’s the most amazing feeling where you are running full tilt, heat coming off your body in waves while cool water just pelts you from above. Definitely one of my “wow” moments in life.

The thing that made me think of gratitude this morning though was how steady my pace felt. How good the breathing was. The feel of the morning air on my skin. The other runners waving and saying “hi.” That and thinking back to the training days months after my heart attack where I would just start to spontaneously catch my breath and notice tears on my face for no reason. Like this little candy bar of sorrow, regret and happiness all rolled up in a colorful plastic wrapper.

Today was just happiness out on the trail. Nothing more. I guess that is what this whole gratitude thing has taught me though. To retrain my thought patterns away from fear and anxiety toward other pathways that feel better. This does not mean I don’t have bad days. It’s just a subtle tool that you notice in play once in a while when, say, you catch yourself smiling instead of crying on the running trail.

It reminds me of a guy I met over the weekend while camping. We were exchanging life stories, while drying off after a midnight swim, around the campfire. He showed me one of his tattoos. I think it was a combination of the symbols for Virgo and Aquarius. He said it meant “now.” That’s exactly what this morning’s run felt like. I felt like I was finally able, for once, to just be in the moment. Nothing more. Nothing behind. Nothing ahead. Just now. It felt amazing.

My own gratitude practice has taught me that I’m grateful for love, friendship, campfires, life and the most important thing of all… possibility.

Posted in personal, running

Experiment with a hammock

So I set out to try hammock camping two weekends ago. The thing about this is that I’ve been watching some You Tubers channels to learn more about living outdoors for a few days at a stretch. While I made it through Cub Scouts, probably by the force of my parents there, I never went through the boy scout track so all of this stuff is learn-as-I-go.

When I first saw some guys sleeping in tarp-covered hammocks I was immediately intrigued.  As I already had a hammock for my camping trips from last year with bug netting all I needed was the tarp and a way to rig up a protective cover for warmth since I am not buying an under quilt until after the big trip in September. From the “I’m not made of money department” there.

I bought an inexpensive tarp from Chill Gorilla for this experiment. Pairing that with my cheap Eastern Ridge hammock with bug netting. Then hanging my rig with these awesome straps from Hommit. For an underlayer, I paired a wool Amry blanket with a super flexible thin rubber exercise mat. Once put together it was really comfortable. I had my sleep sack from Big Agnes which I used for a quilt. Being Summer it was pretty warm to start with but the temperature dropped to 63 so I was glad to have both a top and bottom layer.

Back to my learn-as-I-go track. My knots sucked. It was truly a trainwreck. Fortunately one of my fellow campers taught me how to properly use the plastic slider affixed to the tarp connectors. Then he also taught me how to tie a Taunt Line Hitch and a Bolan knot. The first is used to give you an adjustable knot to fix the tension. The second is used to secure the line from the plastic slider which is also used to set tension properly. Once this was all in place the tarp worked fantastically.

Now the experience. I love reading and napping in my hammock but I have never attempted to sleep all night in one. While I had a difficult time adjusting to my hanging bed, I fell asleep eventually and slept really really well. It was one of my favorite nights outdoors. One I hope to repeat once I do some more knot tying practice and learn the actual name of the “plastic slider.”

In the end, I definitely think there is something to this whole hammock thing. They look great, pack down to nothing and are relatively lightweight. Definitely a cool experience.

Posted in outdoors

Dodging dietary bullets while outdoors

Hiking and camping require a person to rethink how they make food. Especially when you have heart disease. This post is part of a larger series chronicling my journey to the Olympic Mountains coming up at the end of this summer… and the misadventures, fun, and campfires along the way.

Cooking outdoors is very different than at home. Unless you are of the mindset where you bring an ice box, large format gas stove or equipment to cook over an open fire. I won’t want to carry that much in September up a 6000 ft incline, so I opted for the Jet Boil system last year. Granted, there are even more minimalist cook systems out available. This one just appealed to me because it’s pretty, well, “me” proof.

To prepare good dehydrated meals all you really need is hot water and a freezer bag full of your mix. You combine the two, place it in some sort of insulated cozy and let it steep for 20 to 30 minutes. That’s the formula for most hot meals and proof that you don’t have to buy a Jet Boil if you don’t want too.

Meal planning with heart disease really complicates things. I’m talking about the 80% of the time that I eat clean. Not the 20% where I treat myself to something that elicits memories from the smell, texture and flavor experience. Pulled chicken sandwiches for example which remind me of living back home with my parents when I was a kid.

While I am nowhere near dietician status here, the guidance I have gotten, and rules I follow, are somewhere between Mediterranean, AHA Guidelines and lots and lots of fruits and vegetables with wine at dinner. You don’t have a lot of those options while on the trail however. In my 8 months of hiking research via You Tube I found myself caught between the Ramen Noodle, Jerky, cheese and bacon camp. And I celebrate the folks who don’t have to worry about that stuff, unfortunately for me, these opions have wildly too much sodium, fat, and sugar.

Last year I started experimenting with Mountain House dehydrated foods, saw it on some You Tube videos of young guys losing their marbles on how good that stuff is. And they are really good. But, of course, every meal that appealed to me had the same problem as Ramen noodles or too much fat to for my mind to allow myself to splurge on. From there I moved to several other companies until I found three that I really love. Good To Go, Packit Gourmet and one that my buddy Doug hooked me up with called Outdoor Herbivore (the last being a vegetarian and vegan company which totally fit the 80%).

So I’ve been out the past two weekends doing some testing of hammock gear and one night in my single man tent to try out my lightweight Big Agnes inflatable mattress. Sleeping in a hammock is, by far, my favorite style to date and the subject of a future post soon. During these two overnight trips, I had a chance to try Good To Go Marinara with Penne and the Outdoor Herbivore Summer Tomato sauce with gnocchi, which I incidentally had the pleasure to share with an environmental author, meditation practitioner Buddhist, and activist, J.M. Seligman. That made for a great conversation starter lasting late into the evening. Yeah, Outdoor Herbivore was that good.

The Good To Go Marinara with Pene was fantastic. I boiled a little over a cup of water, removed the dry packet from the bag, added the water, sealed the bag, stuffed the bag gently into the still warm Jet Boil chamber. I left that to cook for about 30 minutes covered, “stirring” occasionally by removing the bag and massaging the contents gently because it was pretty hot. When it came time to test it, the flavors, aromas and pasta texture were perfect. I would highly recommend this dish to anyone who wants a little quick Italian style meal while outdoors. The bonus is that it only has 300 g of sodium and 1g saturated fat. Now for dehydrated food, that’s pretty damn impressive. Plus… no animal products as it’s vegan is made from whole ingredients.

This past weekend I tried a packet of sauce that my buddy from Portland brought to me on his recent trip to visit his family here in Ohio. That and his idea of using Gnocchi on the trail as a quick alternative to completely dehydrated food. I cooked the sauce by boiling 2 cups of water, adding the contents after turning off the flame, stirring occasionally for 10 minutes and boom! Right there in my canister was an aromatic perfect tomato sauce with onions and vegetables that were still damn crisp. Out of this world. Now my Gnocchi experience was a little underwhelming. I used the sauce to cook that in over 20 minutes, which worked but created a mess and the cooking was inconsistent as it was hotter at the bottom of the chamber than the top. Next time I do this I will probably be using a separate boil pot and strainer for the Gnocchi and then portion that out into individual serving bags for more than one person. All in all, though it was a pretty tasty meal with a great health profile (low salt, low fat, vegan).

To conclude, this is all part of the research I am doing right now to get ready for the Olympic Mountain hike that I am going on with my buddy from Portland in September. We both like food. Have various diet restrictions based on healthy living, and love to be outdoors. The point of all this is that you can, in fact, eat healthy while outdoors and not have to go the bacon, cheese, jerky or salami route that a lot of folks can happily enjoy without consequence. So this is part of the fun. Trying new things, meeting new people, midnight swims and drying off, buck naked, around the campfire. Why wasn’t college calculus like this?!

Posted in food, outdoors

Pizza for a stranger… & a personal lesson in dignity

I often times take lunch instead of giving up that time slot for yet more meetings. I know, it’s shocking to some, but it’s part of managing my stress level while keeping balance in a fast-paced environment. Today is one of those humid but cool Ohio days so I wanted to take advantage of it by walking downtown and checking out this little deli that one of my Uber drivers told me about. What happened along the way was a lesson I did not anticipate.

Having lived in downtown Dallas for the better part of a decade, I am no stranger to the plight of the homeless. Warmer climate, larger infrastructure, more resources. I am also not a Christian, religious follower of any kind, believer in an “afterlife” or magic beings. So my belief regarding “charity” is less about those kinds of values and more about my view that these are my fellow citizens. People whom we all owe the gift of pain relief to as none of us can imagine the hardship that these folks endure on a day to day basis. It’s responsibility to those who need help. Without judgement.

In Texas, I would never shy away from buying someone a bite to eat or water to drink. If a person is asking for something, I really believe that they need it. If I have something to give, then, well, it’s given.

Today, however, I passed by a guy on the street who had a hard time speaking, but legible, who asked if I could buy him a piece of pizza at Pizza Rustica on High St. This is my neighborhood, I live just two blocks away from this place. Thus, the guy is my neighbor. And he was hungry.

What happened next though was a personal failure, but came with a valuable lesson about dignity. That and how far some elements of our culture have fallen from compassion and empathy. Once we entered together, the floor manager, I assume, came out at me and scowled an angry face, not at my guest, but me. Telling me that this guy was “bad news.” More scowls and head shakes. We went to the counter, he ordered a single slice of BBQ chicken pizza and a bottle of soda.

While I was paying, the cashier told me “you don’t have to buy this for him.” This is where I went wrong. I started to think that my guest may very well have a behavior problem. That I should do what I could to usher him out of the restaurant with his food. I ordered the food to go. Gave the receipt to my guest and encouraged him to eat outside. Then I left.

On my way, an African American gentleman patted me on the shoulder and noted: “what a good thing I had done.” On the way back to work it came to me that had I actually done a good thing, I would have stayed with my guest, inferred behavioral problem or not, explained to him that the staff at the restaurant were hostile toward him. Which is exactly the opposite of what I saw from my guest. He was polite to the point of being extremely shy. Providing him not just with a piece of pizza and a soda, but with a small slice of human dignity and belonging.

What I learned was that my old precept of simply buying someone a sandwich and a water is not enough. Nor is simply supporting a local Faith Mission. I will instead, stay with the person, make sure they get treated with respect, receive their food and are back to safety on the streets. Away from the shop managers and cashiers who have zero compassion beyond the small little circle of their own lives. I expect more from my fellow citizens. My neighbors.

I expect more from myself.

Posted in general, personal

Going back outdoors

Once upon a time, there was a rural boy who loved the outdoors… and urban life full of museums, cafes, and people of all colors, classes and Nationalities. Fast forward decades later across a couple careers, a heart attack and mountains of bad choices he did a funny thing… he went back outdoors.

I did a lot of traveling last year. I also bought a tent and a sleeping bag and started camping again. Now I grant you, it was gay camping, this awesome place in Ohio called Freedom Valley, as I thought it would be a safer, more familiar, entry point for me. Especially these days in Trump’s, well-armed, America. But it was camping none the less. And it was fun.

I'm the bearded dude in the middle with a red flannel shirt on next to the guy in the yellow shirt.

I’m the bearded dude in the middle with a red flannel shirt on next to the guy in the yellow shirt.

I made a lot of rookie mistakes. My sleeping bag was this monstrous blue aberration for one. It was like a gay bear, large, fuzzy, proud and resistant to compacting to a smaller size. Then there was my foray to Shawnee State Forest at the end of the fall season in 2017. With all my stuff. In my big ass backpack which weighed a ton. I still can’t use a compass unless it’s the one on my phone called Google Maps. Without a water filter. It wasn’t pretty. But it was still fun in that I learned a lot… and one of the artifacts of that trip is a short video of my campfire. I can’t remember how many times I have played that during various low points through the winter.

Honestly, my motivation was to dust off my sorely neglected outdoor skills. Sleep under the stars. Start a campfire. Have some beers with my brothers while talking about our lives.

A funny thing happened in the process. I found that I really enjoyed that kind of lifestyle. I liked it enough to pair it with hiking and backpacking. That leap was part of a way for me to combat this constant anxiety that I was gifted after having a heart attack in 2015. A way for me to challenge myself to live more fully in the moment. Learn how to realize when I was worrying about things I could not control and then let it go in favor of living my life. Some of us live life in a calm state of balance. That’s not me. Every day is a struggle to remind myself to triangulate my inner dialogue. Which reminds me of my immediate need to learn how to navigate, like with a compass, CPR, and first aid before heading out to Washington in September for a 50-mile hike through the Olympics with my best friend Doug. But that’s all part of the adventure I want to take I suppose. Life is a journey.

I guess that’s what people mean when they say that a significant health challenge is not all take. Sometimes it leaves us with gifts. Mine has been sleeping outdoors with new friends around campfires. Starlight falling all around like snow.

And, of course, lighter hiking gear, which is the subject of my next post on how and what I selected for my outdoor kit.

Posted in outdoors

On being a digital immigrant & choices

I parted ways with Instagram, FaceBook, and Twitter two months ago. An interesting set of changes happened after that.

“We are all digital immigrants. While the younger generations are true natives.” This is something that I heard last week in a meeting. Well, that’s sort of the point of this post I guess. Social media is an awesome tool and a great thing, and yes, I do belong to several digital social networks still; The American Heart Association Support Group and Linked In for two examples.

Yet, around the time of the Cambridge Analytica I started to think about my own use of social media. So, as the digital immigrant I am, I downloaded a phone app and tracked how many times I opened FaceBook, Twitter and Instagram. The results really gave me pause. This is what I discovered as a result:

  • I am thinking less in terms of potential status updates and photos – which was weird to start with
  • I have more time
  • I feel less distracted
  • It takes more effort to stay plugged in with friends – like old school face to face
  • I don’t use my mobile phone for much except, interestingly enough, as a phone, GPS, calendar and for Spotify now
  • I feel more centered – which is sometimes terrifying without the distraction away from those thoughts
  • I almost deleted my blog but decided to keep that presence, for better or worse, after talking with my husband and some friends
  • I have more time to spend planning fun things for myself outdoors solo rather than keeping up on what everyone else is doing

In the end though, I think it’s about basic choices and commons sense. While I didn’t have negative feelings toward these tools, I made a choice to unclutter my daily workflow. Just a little. The end results have taught me more about myself than I expected. I feel like I rediscovered my voice in the process without casting the natives in a negative light. It’s a big world in constant flux between the old paving the way for the new in this endless spiral of renewal. That’s the beauty of culture I suppose.

A moment

Posted in personal

A walk with a friend

Running races was, momentarily, my measure of truth. My way of keeping time to the beat of cardiac health. It was… absolutely wonderful and I don’t regret a single race no matter how humiliating, or great, the outcome was. For me it was all about setting milestones along my path that would keep me honest toward exercising along a regimented and regular schedule. And yet it was last year that this schedule fell apart. Just like when your tire blows out while you are driving down the road. The thing is that I discovered something between my cross country travels and tent camping in 2017. I felt at home outdoors. Something I had turned off in favor of technological and business pursuits for nearly 25 years. It was at the end of summer that my friend Doug and I started talking about “taking a walk together.” Not one intent on setting ourselves in harms way, but one that would be a little bit of a mile marker regardless.

After he and his husband’s wedding, Doug and I went on some amazing day long walks together. Up to the top of Saddle Mountain, waist deep in freezing water to an amazing waterfall and ultimately 6000′ above sea level to McNeil Point on Mt Hood. He has the benefit of living in one of the most beautiful and nature rich States in America. Which is probably why we nervously side eyed the senior citizens who dusted us in the speed department up the side of Mt Hood with their hiking poles.

McNeil Point Mt Hood

Camping in 2017 reminded me that I love sleeping on the ground, reading in a hammock, walking through wooded areas (trying not to think about ticks… or bears), looking up in the pitch black of the night around you to be blinded by the delicate arc of the Milky way, the sound of rain on your tent, the smell of the mist in the morning as it burns off in the sun light.

But back to the conversation with Doug about taking a walk. While my race running metronome had gone still, I could almost sense another one taking form in the background. What if I tried something I’d never done before again? Like a 7-day hike in a well-known National Park area? Put it on my calendar like I did my 20-mile race. Train for it in steady increments. Partner, yet again, with my Drs to keep them in the loop on what our plans were.

Yet there’s a reality here as well, hiking is not camping. There’s a ton of planning, lesson learning, and mistake making that will go into this endeavor. With Portland Oregon at an elevation of 50′ and Columbus Ohio at 900′ looks like our maximum elevation will be 5200′ above sea level on the trip. It’s still not classified as high altitude according to this guy but it will be for us. Along those lines, this is a good article on training at sea level for a marathon in the altitudes we will be in for part of our trip. Incidentally, this article does classify 5200′ above sea level as high altitude.

Trail by Doug

My guess is that we should both focus on endurance and then pace when we are at that elevation. Slowing down to match the effort. I’m planning on working back up to running to the 13-mile mark again and lifting 2x a week. Intermixing some 3 to 10-mile walks with a weighted vest on. Working on cardio and muscular/connective tissue/skeletal strength. And Yoga… definitely Yoga. I’ll talk with my cardiologist and GP about any risk factors well in advance and how to mitigate that but I imagine with McNeil Point being 6100′ above sea level we at least have an idea of what to expect … then again, we weren’t hauling a weeks’ worth of gear on our backs then either. I need to get a weighted vest soon now that I’m writing this and get some x-rays of my knees just to take precautions again.

I love all the planning and dreaming that is going into this goal. Having come out of one of the strongest cardiac-emotional funks I’ve faced to date, this is a refreshing thing to build up a positive energy flow. Yet, just as my failed marathon goals taught me, I plan to take those lessons of flexibility with me this time to make this a loosely held aspiration rather than a rigidly fixed one. It’s the process that I want to focus on here. The sharing of an experience with my best friend.

Ultimately, if luck is with us in August/September of this year, we put on these synthetic shirts, running shorts, hiking shoes, and 30 lbs. back packs, get used to smelling funky and strike out for a staggered walk through the Olympic Mountains. Scares the shit out of both of us I think. But you know what? That’s one of the best parts about life. Facing our unknowns. Ideally with someone else. That’s all a person can hope for in life.

Posted in personal

Ringing bells

Yeah, I don’t do New Years Resolutions but I have a habit of listening, and reviewing, the lessons of the previous year and looking at my life compass and setting a direction for the new year. Over the past month, with the demands I’ve talked about that tackled me to the ground roughly in December and November, I took a good deal of time to do a deep amount of soul searching over the Holidays, as a very full year wound down to a close. 2017 told me I want to work more on my career path with the clear goal of becoming a cloud architect, a better husband to the man who has been my partner for many more years than our legal marriage, spend even more time outdoors in nature, a better friend and active community member in multiple spheres and to find a better milestone than running races to keep me on a heart healthy path, and strong, in the face of cardiac artery disease.

After talking to one of my Christmas Day guests who is a friend and former colleague of mine from Cardinal Solutions who is now running her own business, I took her advice on seeking coaching. It’s intuitively what I asked of my new therapist who I engaged to help me through the cardiac anxiety issues I am dealing with that have been pulling me closer to depression than I’ve ever been. The therapist asked me what my expectations were so I said, “I want you to challenge my beliefs and make me try to see things in a new light.” If I understood what Stephanie said to me on Christmas Day, that’s the role of a coach. So I’m reading a couple books right now. One of which is titled “On Managing Yourself,” a curated collection of Harvard Business Review articles intended to make you a better person and professional. The first article had a bit about taking the time to not just be mindful but to dedicate a chunk of time daily to find the purpose, meaning and value of life. While I already know who I am at this age, through some hard fought battles with past selves, I found that idea resonated with me deeply. Secondly, as a semi regular journaler and list maker, there was advice in the second article about creating a bell weather of sorts. Using the following list to measure our success and make alterations when necessary.

  • What are my strengths?
    • Meaning feedback analysis where you write down an intended outcome for every meaningful choice we make and then come back to review that iteratively. Which sounds like a whiff of Agile methodology to the developer in me… and a great way to apply that in real life.
  • How do I work?
    • Or are we a listener or a reader in how we interact with the world and people around us as knowing that will help us to better communicate with everyone, ourselves included, in all aspects of our lives.
  • What are my values?
    • What do we see as our ethical responsibilities to those around us in all contexts? One example being does the company I work for have values that align with my own? If not, then it’s time to change jobs. Same thing with relationships and people.
  • Where do I belong?
    • I took this as seeking out work and contracts that align with our strengths, work styles and personal values.
  • What can I contribute?
    • Based on the previous question, once you find the right fit, ask what is required and add value to the degree that you are capable and let others do the same thing.

While I’m only two articles into this tonight, on the first day of the year, I am energized by the type of dialogue it’s presenting. It’s one of those moments where you can almost feel the bell going off in your heart that you are hearing what you need to at the right moment in your life. It definitely gives value to the idea that at the end of every night there is always dawn… and hope for change.

It’s great career and life advice that I’d highly recommend to anyone seeking to either define, or redefine, themselves.

Ringing Bell

Posted in personal, professional