Four things that hiking taught me about work, life and myself

Photo by Blake Cheek on Unsplash

This post is an attempt to talk about four principals that have been stewing in my brain for sometime now. It’s a set of concepts that came to me in the days after a health event that put me on the doorstep of becoming a runner and, soon after, a backpack hiker. I believe that there are many paths to self awareness. This is where my trek is taking me at the moment in my professional, personal and outdoors life.

I was never a Boy Scout. Memory is squidgy on why I never followed through with the Scouts actually. And yet, probably to my parent’s chagrin, I dropped out of the program shortly after Cub Scouts when I was a kid. Well, that and soccer, football, choir, and band. Loved track & field though. I think I am more of a loner than a joiner actually. Not anti-social so much, but inclined to keep company by myself usually while enjoying the metered company of others.

All that aside though, I love being outdoors even though I have lived pretty much every minute I could in front of a computer screen through my 30’s & 40’s, or in a restaurant, or in a kitchen. Some of my friends were shocked one day in the mid 2000’s when I was outside one time, after having broken my arm in a biking accident, I was bicycle commuting every day at the time, when I think I said something like “I love being outside in the sun.” Alcohol may have been involved. But I was met with dismay and laughter in that inconsistent statement I uttered aloud.

Change demands honesty.

Fast forward to four years ago. A serious health challenge. Three great job changes. My marriage and a new openness to many permutations of friendships across multiple fulcrums along the past, present and future tenses. I guess the constant lesson has been change. Maybe some forgiveness in there and willingness to learn from mistakes and then let them go like those paper lanterns that float off into some night sky down a river.

I can’t change what I’ve done, or not done, in the past, but what I can do is get real honest about the need for change. Yeah, sounds nice, but not so easy. Some changes take more effort than others. Like hiking 100 miles with my buddy Doug last year through the Olympics. That challenged both of us and we found that we needed one another at various points along the way. Changing my diet to be a lot more heart healthy has been an iterative process as well. Salt, fat, sugar are the key factors to manage while increasing consumption of fish, whole grains and vegetables. I think about this a lot actually. And while, playing with fire, there have been pizzas, I remind myself of something my dad told me. “It’s not the thing you do occasionally that will kill you, it’s the things you do every day.”

Honesty requires self forgiveness.

I was supposed to go back to Burr Oak State Park to do a group hike with some new friends this weekend. Didn’t happen. My motivation just was not there. It could be that I am waist deep in learning new skills as required by my new job. Maybe it was a bout of winter blues… it’s been very cold here in Ohio recently due to the polar vortex. It might have been some emotional drainage from working on the AHA Support Network. I say that because I tend to mull over things slowly. I cry in movies. My suspension of disbelief skills are strong I suppose. While this was more of a choice than a failure, I realized I disappointed myself and needed to give myself a break. It’s like that at work as well at times. If more of us became aware of those moments and chose to not be so critical of our shortcomings and instead perform an act of kindness instead, we’d be a lot healthier in the long run.

Self forgiveness yields wisdom.

My 2019 hiking schedule is beckoning. Like I told dad and mom recently, I want to use every damn minute I have doing things that take me places I’ve never been. With Burr Oak fresh in my mind, I’ve got to be less type A about this year’s goals though and just do what I can when I can. Boy Scout or not. I won’t let fear of not knowing how to properly navigate, with a map, get in my way. Or learning how to cut enough firewood for a small campfire when it’s available and allowed. Fear of meeting people that may or may not be hostile – choosing to be present and open. With anyone. Allowing ourselves the time to truly know ourselves is imperative to growth.

Facing fear provides true sight.

There are moments on most of my hikes that I have the opportunity to just get lost. Fear again. That said, I am researching a 323 mile hike through the Daniel Boon National Forest called the Sheltowee Trace. It’s the through hike that might actually be attainable for me. I know sort of what to expect after spending nearly a week on the trail last year with Doug in the Olympics. Yet, this breaks down to three full weeks at an aggressive pace. Backwoods skills being beginner not withstanding. There’s fear of being outside of the safe range of a 911 call. Getting seriously lost or injured. The specter of loneliness. And yet I know all this and keep coming back to this device of getting as far backwoods as possible for these exact reasons. The memories forged outdoors, while there may have been anxiety, are full of the experiences I had. The time spent just being in an environment totally devoid of structure. The smell of rain on the forest floor. The taste of water from icy cold glacial mountain rivers. The chill of the air on my skin at night while being dumbstruck simply looking up at the Milky Way.

It’s when I think of these four principals that I know I am on the right path for myself. I also think that, while this post is about my own treks outdoors more often than not, that there is business, and life, value beyond my own application of these precepts. In an era of distraction, multi-tasking, and ambition, we need to be kinder to ourselves and each other. So here’s to honesty, forgiveness, wisdom, and sight.

Two weeks of transition; one man’s thoughts on job changes & career paths

The past two weeks have been full of hellos and goodbyes with my job changing. These are my thoughts, observations and advice to others on not letting moss grow on ones toes and how to be wary, not of wolves, but of the insidious fear of change.

I went to a Columbus Web Group talk last night where the presenter, Tom Burden of Grypmat, spoke about his journey toward building a startup. He touched on things like making things personal, identifying what makes us angry and other points, including working with our own fears, which comprise his decision-making framework. Over all, it was great, and he reminded me of my own experience. While I don’t want to create a startup anytime soon, Tom’s thoughts on how to identify a goal and start a journey were on point.

With my recent move from Nationwide Insurance as a collaboration software architect over to Insight as a software engineer, I appreciate what Tom said about, essentially, leaning into what Brené Brown calls discomfort and what Tom calls “what makes you angry.” While I was in no way angry, Nationwide was great, I did have some advice that the CEO of DaVita gave me on a flight back from San Francisco once.


“Re-pot yourself every three years.”


The thing is, I spent way too many years at one company once in my life and it was my responsibility to pursue change, but I was comfortable doing web and SharePoint work in a corporate environment. For fifteen years. It was fun, secure and predictable but that’s just the thing. It’s what Tom talked about. “Find the thing that makes you angry.” “Confront your fears.” “Reach higher.” The day I decided to leave that job in Texas back in 2008 was one of the best days of my career. I had no idea what I would learn, the challenges I’d face or the failures and success to come. But I did it anyway. I did the same thing by strategically choosing to work in architecture at Nationwide while leaving Cardinal Solutions. I am doing it over again by diving head first into cloud technologies at Insight.

When we face a fork on our path, we must actively choose the next direction we pursue. Yeah, it might be a little scary. There may be challenges ahead. But the only way we get from one place in our lives to the next is by not doing the same thing over and over. It’s by stretching ourselves, growing, being grateful always, being open, and putting our best selves forward.

Just like back-country backpacking… part of the excitement is the idea that we may change as people depending on which path we take. It’s the cumulative experience that we garner that makes us who we are at given points in our lives.

Change is constant. Fear of change is a choice. There is always a better way for those who choose to challenge themselves.

Road Fork

My first winter camping trip

It’s January in Ohio. Winter. The Holidays are over. Scrolling through Meetups recently lead me to a Chillicothe Backpackers Group. They were planning a winter hike overnight camping trip at Mohican State Forest. I thought, man, I haven’t been there since I was a kid.
40 Second Mohican River video
 
I got there and did the self-check-in stuff. Then drove around to have a look at the Covered Bridge and the Mohican River up close and personal for a bit. Everything surrounded by pines and CCC planted trees. It smelled and sounded like I remember from my teenage years.
 
After a little difficulty, I found the park and pack lot at a country path dead end. You hike past 9 to get to ten. The site was large and bi-level. All planned 20 of us could have occupied that space. We were up on an outcropping looking over the Mohican River. Again, one of my favorite sounds to sleep to is that of running water. Not sure if that is Hoh River memories or not there. Beautiful place. We all got a chance to meet one another, make some food and share a few late night campfire beverages. The best thing though was when one of the guys suggested we take a midnight hie out to the bald spot and look at stars.
 
The trail to the campsites
I got some good information from the folks. One of the guys suggested I do the EGGS Hike on Summer Solstice. From what I gather it’s a 20, 40, 60 and 80-mile option to do the Burr Oak and Tar Hollow loops. Sounds like fun.
 
It’s always interesting listening to campfire talk too. About the ridiculous, hard, emotional and life aspects of a person and how they choose to share while watching “caveman TV.” One guy having been married for 12 years. Another who was happily dating for 1 month. A woman who brought her German Shepard puppy, who was adorable, and another who worked for the Federal Govt. I watching two straight guys giving another straight guy relationship and dating advice. It was a positive statement about masculinity done right.
Campfire
So yeah, a great first trip out doing a winter camping trip. Met some good people. Was fun and I’d definitely do it again.
Sunrise on the way back up the trail

Gratitude for a great year

This post is about things I think about at the end of a year. Things that made me happy. Things that I am taking into 2019 that make me grateful. What are some of your highlights?

2018 brought me face to face with a lot of change, some challenges, tears, laughter, new and old friends.

Here’s some of my highlights:

I stood by my best friend, who had a hemorrhagic stroke a little over a year ago, through medical appointments, hernia surgery and helping to slow his financial bleeding. There was a moment when I drove him to visit my parents in Marion where he was telling his story and he just broke down into abject tears while telling them about waking from has coma not knowing his own mother was dead. It was one of the only times I saw him emote since his stroke. I feel like we lost parts of him to his event but, in some ways, it has shown us who we are as family.

There was also the amazing wilderness trips I took outdoors to continue exploring that side of myself and nature. The huge hike in Washington over three mountains, 100 miles taking 6 days to complete. The ridiculous 50 lbs pack weight I had because I had to carry both bear cans as my buddy’s pack was not wide enough. Seeing bears, elk and various other forms of wildlife were amazing as was being able to almost touch the clouds on the mountain tops as the formations drifted all around us.

The year also went on to close the same way it rolled along. With a gift. A challenge really. I got a new job. I’ve been a software architect now for three years. I got an offer to go work for an amazing small firm though as a software engineer. The money worked out great and I am going to once again crack my knuckles in an effort to stay relevant in my chosen field. Technology changes really quick. While I am nervous about the stress, I think I am self aware enough now that I will try to watch out for anything that takes me off balance in the future. It’s also a lot of fun so I am looking forward to 2019 for that. Still, grateful for all the lessons and connections I made at my old job.

These are the kind of things that helped me to get back up off the floor when a bout of depression would hit me. Sometimes for days. The people in my life, my friends, coworkers, and family. The sound of crickets, purified water from mountain streams, and the smell of campfire. All these things and events that can lift us back up. Another year alive.

I don’t make resolutions, I just try to set myself up for better choices. Allow for failure. Always be thankful.

I hope that all of you are closing 2018 with a smile and something to go forward into 2019 with that makes your heart sing.

Next year my hopes include 12 backpack/hiking trips, trying kayaking for the first time, finishing my first full arm tattoo, getting back to running and lifting weights more regularly, mediation, more vegetables and lot’s of work both professionally and with my therapist on the depression front.

Happy New Year everyone!

Jeff

The picture above was of me, left, and my buddy Doug after completing our Olympic Mountain hike from up top of Hurricane Ridge overlooking the mountain ranges. We both cried due the sheer effort and beauty.

Christmas Rock Hike & Downtime

I celebrated this Christmas by taking the time to go hike with 19 strangers at Christmas Rock Nature Preserve. One again, the community you find in the outdoors world never disappointing. It was strenuous in two spots with some pretty steep climbs but the view from Christmas Rock over the gorge was worth it. That and the sense of accomplishing something in nature with a group of like minded people.

Christmas Rock hike on Christmas morning

I’m set to go hiking with another group at Highbanks Metro Park on New Years Day for a night hike in the dark. After that I plan to meet-up with the Chillicothe Outdoor Adventures group to do some winter backpack/camping at Mohican State Forest. Hopefully I can upgrade my sleeping bag to a 15 degree style one as mine only goes down to 30 degrees and was quite chilly last time I spent the night at Tar Hollow in November with temps in the mid 20’s. Regardless, it will be good to get my first hike of 2019 in from my list of goal destinations.

Other than that I am spending my break time doing some studying and brushing off my tech skills again. Watching the cats way too much. Napping. It’s a good life. Next up, tattoo tomorrow and a party for my husbands long long lost tribe of friends from his early years.

Hocking Hills in Winter

I went out with the folks from Hike Ohio the morning of December 22 on a pre-Christmas Hike. Met some great folks and had an overall good time in HockingHills once more. It was nice to see pretty much all the waterfalls at full force due to how wet the weather has been this season in Ohio.

Video by Paul Brouillette

The best part about Christmas has been the feelings of gratitude for everything that 2018 brought me and my husband and what we have to look forward to in the new year to come. Hopefully more time outdoors, campfires and starlight.

I was also able to spend an afternoon on Christmas Eve eve with my good friend Nick. We went to Highbanks Metro Park. A place where, when I was in my early 20’s, we would frequent and just walk and talk for an afternoon. He’s a stroke survivor. It was a good reminder of the importance of what being outdoors means. It does not always have to be all out backcountry. Sometimes, It can be just two old friends who walk from the car to the visitor center observation deck to be surrounded by trees and listen to the stream below us while having coffee together and talking as usual.

2019 trip planning

The research continues for places I want to put on my hike/backpack trip scheduled for 2019. These are some of the places I have put together so far. I’ve also begun drafting a cardiac hiking group for folks who have been cleared for physical effort after having suffered a heart attack. More on that soon though.

  1. Tar Hollow State Park, Ohio
  2. Mohican State Forest, Ohio
  3. Shawnee State Forest, Ohio
  4. Zaleski State Forest, Ohio
  5. Red River Gorge, Kentucky
  6. Dolly Sods, West Virginia
  7. Hoosier National Forest, Indiana
  8. Oil Creek Gerard Trail, Pennsylvania
  9. Seneca Rocks, West Virginia
  10. Clingman’s Dome Great Smoky Mountains NationalPark, North Carolina
  11. Virginia Triple Crown 
I'd rather be hiking

Research for 2019

I’ve been compiling a stack of hiking books that I want to use over the hardest parts of winter to help steer my trips in 2019. I’m really excited by some places I have yet to visit still in Ohio, which will make for some good quick weekend overnights. But I am super impressed by both Kentucky, West Virginia and Pennsylvania right now as well. I feel lucky to live within a 5 hour radius of some of the most beautiful spots in this part of the Country I suppose.

It’s funny, every year when the days get shorter I feel like retreating into my room which is more like a study these days, Books everywhere, plants bursting at the seems and a small footprint workstation that I am practicing my coding on to ramp back up for some professional efforts I have planned for myself. Still, I miss my weekends outdoors under the stars. Meeting like minded people and connecting randomly with kindred spirits. Winter is a good season to retract into oneself. But it also feels like, I dunno, something like a cross between a waiting room and a nap.

So here’s to looking forward to slightly warmer weather, or money for new sub zero gear and a 4 season tent!

Wrapping up a full year

2018 has been both quiet and transnational all at once. I am completing a large body of work at Nationwide that has poised one division at least to take the first steps toward both modern web development, devops included, while preparing them to be cloud ready. It’s been a struggle, but the work and the people are worth it. I’ve also had the opportunity to continue my outdoor pursuits. Hiking, backpacking, exploring new places and meeting fellow hikers while out on the trail. Looking back tonight at the entire span of the year. At the failures, the moments where I had to take a different path from time to time, the accomplishments and gifts, well, it leaves me not wishing that one thing would have been different. It feels, deliberte and good.

So for Christmas and New Years Day, I have two hikes scheduled to celebrate the Holidays in my own way. I’ve got some vacation planned where I will be doing some self-studying and a couple tech projects on my own. Some tattoo work and maybe a piercing I’ve always wanted to get. Time with friends and family. Time to say thank you to the Universe for my small slice of awesome.

My first night hike experience

Tonight I did my first night hike with the group from Hike Ohio. It was a familiar route through Highbanks Metro Park, but still kind of fun to go at a pretty fast clip through the moonlit trails.

While I enjoyed the company of others, I think it would be a great way to find solitude by oneself or with, at most, another hiking partner. It would be kind of fun to get disoriented and lost to a degree as well. Super beautiful smells, great coloring from the mostly cloudy skies which served to filter the full moon light almost ambient.

Verdict? I think there are some more night hikes in my future.

Not my photo, we didn’t use headlamps, still, if I were by myself…

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