Big South Fork Yahoo Falls

Leaning against the railing of Cumberland Falls was where I choked up silently by myself. I was moved after the three-day backcountry hike in the rain more often than not. All that water. According to Wikipedia, the lowest recorded peak flow rate over the falls was 17,500 ft3/s in 1985. Being there, watching the second largest waterfall East of the Rockies, was reminiscent of standing on Hurricane Hill back in the Olympics. Not merely awe-inspiring, but it epitomized what I like to think of as pure gratitude. For having the chance to see and experience things like this while providing a deeper understanding of nature and be humbled by both its fragility and its persistence. The feeling of connection to the forest around me and the people with whom I had hiked with for the past three days lightened my heart at that moment while listening to the deafening sound of the water spill over the crest and crash into the river below. 
 

Cumberland Falls

But I suppose all hikes begin at the trailhead. This hike was organized by the Central Kentucky Backpackers group. I’ve been out three times with these good people and each time has been amazingly well organized, beautiful and very fun. This time, we all made arrangements to carpool together. There were four of us. An operating room surgeon named Claude, a world-traveling teacher and avid board game enthusiast named Celeste and a wonderfully kind and resourceful writer, program manager and child care taker called Eloise. We all arrived on Thursday morning around 11 am or so. It only took a few moments to put on all our packs and head on up to the trailhead. The sky had been spitting at us so we donned our rain shells and, trekking poles in hand, we headed up the long grassy tree-rimmed corridor to the point where we’d descend into the massive rock-lined path that lead us down toward the streams below along our route. 

The group of us stopped by our first waterfall, the name escapes me but it may well have been near the Yamacraw bridge. Since we weren’t in a hurry the group relaxed time wise. Claude made tortilla pizzas, a popular trail lunch, while Eloise broke out some containers filled with all sorts of fresh fruits and vegetables. I boiled some water and rehydrated a package of Good To Go pasta with marinara sauce. This always reminds me of shivering next to Doug up at Heart Lake in the Olympics after a long trek up the mountain in the misty foggy weather. We were both spent with only enough energy to break camp, make dinner and clean up a bit before crashing into our bedrolls. I guess that dish brings with it some good memories. 

From there we trekked through the woods, making the same stream crossing over slick rocks multiple times until we reached Princess Falls on Lick Creek. It was a low but long rock shelf with an impressive water flow creating a curtain of flowing water making a thunderous noise. We all decided to take a break to rest our feet a bit down by the campsite nestled at the base of the falls. Eloise decided to go for a swim in the crisp water darting under then through the falling water. She had the courage I did not to realize a moment I’d always dreamed of being to stand under falling water outdoors just breathing in the positive ions all around. She was the picture of joy right then. Celeste and I sat on the rocks and aired out our feet while Claude looked around the area checking out all the geological features, including the discovery of stairs out of the area. The Cataract Power Light and Traction Company, later known as Dominion Power and Transmission, was built on the nearby Chedoke Radial Trail generating power for the area using water from the old Welland Canal. In those days the nearby town was called the “Electric City.” Funny how one of the things I love most about visiting places like this is escaping my own digital lifestyle in the end. 

We all packed up, dried off, laced up our boots and headed out.  

We plunged down a pretty unpleasant stretch of the Sheltowee Trace next. It was more about the mood of the trail though. There was a recent river flood that saturated the banks we were walking atop which made the ground rise up and tamp like a bog as we walk across the spongy cracked drying but wet mass. There was a total lack of breeze which made you sweat everywhere. Right down through your underwear and socks dampness. Schweddy balls indeed. We followed the white turtle blazes out of that stretch of trail while seeing multiple sets of fresh bear and deer tracks along the way. 

As we made our way back out onto our trail with the white diamond blazes we finally came out to “Negro” Creek. One of my Kentucky trail books says that the repulsive name may come from a rare African American family who lived at the mouth of the creek in the 1800s. Around the corner, our campsite waited. Once we were set up, Celeste and I filtered water from Negro Creek while Claude hung his hammock with the Cuban fiber tarp to ward off the coming rains of the night. We sat around the fireless fire ring as everything was just too wet to kindle, made dinner and shared company with one another. Trail family for a couple of nights. We broke out some whiskey and talked well into the night while listening to the Cumberland River behind us, the wildlife sounds of toads, owls, and other animals that all comprised the ecosystem we were mere visitors within. After our food bags were hung on our bear lines, we headed back to our respective shelters, donned our night clothes and fell deep asleep. 

Morning came to soon and a long day awaited us. We had only walked something like 7 miles the day before so we were all still pretty fresh. The second day however I think we topped around 12 miles.  

Just before one of our stream crossings, as fate would have it, Claude walked over a young copperhead just as Celeste held the rest of us back and guided us slowly backward. It was a pretty awesome sight to see. Something so small and unassuming yet poisonous and representing imminent danger when you are six miles down a trail with a 25 lbs. backpack strapped to your back. Nature is beautiful… even the sharp parts. 

Later, we climbed up a pretty decent sized exposed hill into the sunlight where I gladly took my soaked shirt off to dry in the sun and the wind while munching on a fruit bar Eloise was kind enough to share with Claude and myself. Celeste found a meditation spot on the other side of the summit and sat quietly in the sun no doubt reflecting on the beauty around her. 

From there we dove back into the Daniel Boone Forest and made our way to the roadway. Eloise told us that this was the first time shed worn her hiking boots in over a decade. She’d decided to get back outdoors recently you see. From experience, I understand just how much courage to change this takes. Well, her boots did great but everything has an end of life. So, her right boot burst apart at the toe box. Claude and I decided duct tape was the thing to do. I had wrapped that on my trekking poles as recommended by Outdoor Adventures once. And like a fool, I was in a hurry to help with no regard to my own process so I whipped out my Swiss Army and, treating it alike the full tang blade it was not, plunged it into the tree trunk we were both sitting on when it collapsed and cut into my index finger. While unfortunate, and mostly embarrassing, it was OK because Claude and Celeste patched me up as Eloise wrapped her boots. It made me think about what I have in common with an old boot… and that the boot did not share my own stupidity. 

From there we made our way to Yahoo Falls which is the only place where we saw any people along the entire trail. It’s thought to be the highest waterfall in Kentucky. Standing at the base of it, you have no doubt of this as its powerful finger touches the black rocks below with a melodic crash. Almost like a harps cord. Just this living strand of water singing as it moves over the earth. We all took a few moments here and just took it all in. 

After this, it was time to close the loop however and try to head back to Princess Falls for the night, back up the butthole of the Sheltowee Trace trail. The miles seemed to stretch on in the heat and humidity though. Claude suggested to the group that there was a discrepancy in what was reported on the map and what his GPS was saying, and not in our favor. I was getting low on water and feeling the negative effects of not having a proper lunch when Celeste told me to filter some water at the next stop which gave me a second wind for a while. All through this stretch, however, we passed geological feature after feature. Towering proudly above or teetering as if they would topple in that very minute. All while passing streams and creeks just bursting full of water noisily signing and giving life to everything in the area. 

Eloise was feeling the same way I was at one point and fading fast. We did the best to prop one another up but when your tank is low, its low. We passed an old chimney that looked like that all it was missing was the house to make it a Blaire Witch experience. We also came across an AT style shelter in a particularly dank section of the Sheltowee Trace. It’d be a great Winter spot but with our campsite from the previous night nearby, we chose to push on. 

Finally, however, we came back to the spot we started off from that morning. Around 12 to 13 miles later if I recall right. Celeste, Eloise and I went to gather water after setting up our shelters, leaving Claude to set up his hammock. We all had dinner with much lower energy than the previous night but, oddly enough, with light hearts that were practically beaming with all the beauty we experienced during that day. Together as a group. There was talk of family, friends, life, choices, and possibilities. Once again, bear bags were hung and we all crawled into our respective shelters slipping out of trail clothes and into deep dreams while listening to the river, frogs, and owls talk to the night sky. That night the sky let loose and decided to pour out upon the earth with a heavy volume. Loud. Pounding. And thorough. 

We decided to wake up pretty early the next day in order to tackle what we suspected would be another set of mismeasured miles on the map. The rain let up a bit while we made breakfast and packed up our campsite but never fully stopped. When we hit the trail, it began with gusto again, however. By the time we reached the Sheltowee Trace, everyone was soaked, rain gear notwithstanding. Walking down the trail was reminiscent of being a 6-year-old kid sloshing and splashing on City sidewalks that had become temporary streams. That stretch of trail was both complicated by the rain and difficulty of traversing the muddy terrain but lighter because of the cool water, cooler temperatures and the breezes that permeated the trees. It was, in many ways, a totally different experience than the day before. 

We made it back to Princess Falls and then to the multiple stream crossing that lay in store for us. Unfortunately, the trail wanted a little more from us however than a boot, my finger and Claude having fallen on his ass on a rock, no doubt leaving a formidable bruise. It was Celeste however who glided in and out of those woods unharmed. But back to the present moment. On the stream crossing with the rope strung across, Eloise slid on the jumping off rock and painfully fractured her hand. We got her upright and across that and the other stream crossing, however. Reminding her of my own experience with disaster thinking. That it’s not worth jumping to the worst-case scenario first. That we can choose to instead kindle the fire of a more hopeful possibility. Alas, this was not her reality. However, when getting through experience, there is strength in hope.  

There’s a meditation that I read recently about “touching peace” which I was reminded of over the course of the 27 miles we hiked last weekend.  

“The possibility of peace is all around us, in the world and in nature. Peace is also within us, in our bodies and our spirits. The act of walking will water the seeds of peace that are already there inside us. Our mindful steps help us cultivate the habit of touching peace in each moment.” 

Thich Nhat Hamh

I’ve spent so much energy on managing anxiety the past four years post heart attack. And while running got me back outdoors, it’s been hiking that has given me lasting moments of relief. A way to refocus on the experience at hand which, effectively, trains my brain to zoom out and look at the path ahead of me instead of the fears of what might lie around the corner. Finding likeminded people to hike with has been an amazing thing as well. The memories that you walk out of the forest with are worth every drop of sweat you shed. 

Next up? A short two-day backpacking trip to Zaleski with a new buddy this coming weekend and then camping with some friends the following weekend to kick off the summer season. After that, I plan to make my first trek out to the Dolly Sods and Hoosier National Forest. I’m damn grateful for every hike and chance to be outdoors. I think that’s why I choked up behind my sunglasses at Cumberland Falls. Not out of sadness, but joy.

Onward.

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Mustard greens and spinach pesto

It’s springtime in Ohio and, sure enough, the colors in our Yellow Bird boxes are changing. The types and variety of local produce we are enjoying is impressive. The funny thing here is that I follow a guy on You Tube who is a hiker/kayaker who owns a farm. He kind of put just going to a local farm for groceries in my head in the first place. While we are lucky to have an innovative service here that sources out and delivers this stuff for us, it’s just as easy to simply Google local farms and see what you come up with. Shifting 50% of our shopping away from Kroger has been well worth the time.

Anyway, we got Mustard greens, which I have never tasted before,, spinach and oat cheese recently along with some ramps, which have heard about but also never had the chance to try. I made a pesto out of the spinach and mustard greens which is out of this world good. One afternoon I paired that on toasts with a local goat cheese and it was nothing short of something out of a movie where people were wolfing food down as quick as possible. The next night we boiled up some orecchiette, sauteed the ramps in olive oil, broiled a chicken breast and then tossed everything together with a 1/3 of a cup of the pesto. It was also superb.

Here’s the recipe I adapted from this source for the pesto.

Instructions
Add pine nuts to a food processor and pulse until they start to break down. Add the rest of the dry ingredients (spinach, mustard greens, cheese and salt) and process until combined, about a minute or two, stopping to scrape down the sides as needed. The mixture should resemble a paste. Add the olive oil and the lemon juice, processing again until ingredients are incorporated and mixture is smooth.
Let sit for at least 30 minutes, allowing the flavors to meld.

Ingredients
1/2 cup Pine Nuts
1 3/4 cup Spinach
1 big bunch of mustard greens
1/3 cup Parmesan Cheese
1/4 tsp. Salt
1/3 cup Olive Oil
1/2 Lemon, the juice of

Mustard green and spinach pesto

Wisdom from a would be PCT through hiker with heart disease

I was in Cleveland working with a client this week when I came across this article in one of my email feeds. “My PCT Dreams and Why I’m No Longer Hiking,” Jenna Duesterhoeft. It’s about a young woman who, with her boyfriend, was planning on doing the PCT together. Only, heart disease had other plans for her. I really liked her story in the capacity of how resilient she was while being presented with two major setbacks over the course of a couple of years.

Same boat here different circumstances. Yet, I understand and appreciate her words so very much. While I enjoy the dichotomy of my life. Living in urban settings now for most of my life. Smack downtown both in Columbus Ohio and Dallas Texas. But enjoying my time outdoors hiking and camping as a way to combat anxiety related to having had a heart attack in 2015.

But, as seen with Jenna’s words, there is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about how everything, and I mean everything, can change in just a matter of minutes. I think that’s the other part of what I’ve been doing though. While getting outdoors for 5, 20, 100-mile hikes in the backwoods is a way to combat anxiety in as much as it forces me to live in the moment, it’s more than that. Jenna sums it up beautifully in her note to PCT hikers.


“Savor every moment out on the trail. Be thankful that you are out there. Please. You are so lucky.”

I feel grateful for where I have been so far. The memories of mountain tops, glacial streams, sunsets atop cliffs in Kentucky with some new friends over dinner, treks through deep woods as a stinking spider web covered bearded mess are things I cherish. And yet, I concede, I have been lucky to enjoy these experiences. My own first through hike is loosely scheduled for 2020. Nothing on the scale of the AT, PCT or JMT but something to the tune of 300 miles, which, for me, is huge. But you can count on every small group hike or multi-day backwoods trek in between now and then I will keep Jenna’s words fresh in my heart.

While the next hike is not guaranteed. With a nod to Jenna, as she is dead on right, I plan to make the most of my time outdoors this year and toast to her, and everybody else’s, health and happiness.

Man Looking At Water
Photo by Nitish Meena on Unsplash
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Cooking with Millet

I signed up for a local farmer-based grocery service called Yellow Bird last year. I like the idea that the products I get are not a result of factory farming, don’t contribute to global warming like things that go through a corporate supply chain, and that everything rotates with the seasons. One of the coolest things though is that you get a box but have no idea of what’s going to be in it. As a result, I’ve come face to face with cabbage, Brussels sprouts, Napa Cabbage, turnips, daikon radishes, spelt, barley and now… millet.

Millet is a whole grain. Full of fiber, high in protein, vitamins, is gluten free, and good for heart health according to multiple sources. It also tastes good and reminds me of a good fluffy cous-cous.

After reading a totally heart warming story about this guy who is bike backpacking across the world and how he adopted a kitten along the way, I paired my first batch with a whole bag of sauteed spinach and a yellow onion with some seasonings and then served it with shrimp on the first night and scallops the next day.

You can make this vegan and low/no oil if you like. I used a couple teaspoons of olive oil and some no sodium zero fat chicken stock to add a little extra flavor. I was tempted to use my go to spices like chipotle powder for a smoky spicy kick, and then the jar of sriracha was staring at me too, but I wanted to actually taste millet for the first time. It was great. Here’s one preparation of millet that I found on the web.

I’d highly recommend this dish and will probably add it into my whole grain rotation in the future.

Millet with spinach and scallops
Millet with spinach and scallops

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 1/2 cups millet
  • 3 cups water
  • A small amount of Kosher salt, Mrs. Dash or Sumac for a no sodium option

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Pour 1 1/2 cups millet into a dry pan. Toast for about 2 to 3 minutes over medium heat, stirring frequently.
  2. Pour in 3 cups water and add a few pinches kosher salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to very low. Cover the pot and simmer for about 17 minutes, until the water has been completely absorbed.
  3. Fluff the millet with a fork – season with Thyme, basil, pepper and anything else you enjoy
  4. To serve as a side, sprinkle the juice of 1 lemon and some parsley over the dish
Millet with spinach and shrimp
Millet with spinach and shrimp
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Weekend backpacking trip to the Red River Gorge

Trip to Eagle’s Point Buttress with the Central Kentucky Backpackers Meetup group. One down, 14 to go!
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Two years later

It’s been about two years now since my best friend and ancillary father figure, Nick, suffered his hemorrhagic stroke. He has a huge group of friends who have been amazing. Four of us were tasked to be his medical and durable powers of attorneys. The medicals are out of town and only marginally helpful. The two financial poa’s, one being myself and the other, Lori, a long term friend of Nick’s both live here in town.

What I have learned over the past two years has been nothing short of an education in family and friendship. Nick’s sister, who is a goblin of epic proportions, was there for him when he needed her. She drove out from Arizona to be at his side while he was incapacitated for months at a place called the Whetstone Rehabilitation Center. Well, that was horrific. Lori came in on him totally passed out, butt naked in a stifling room with no evidence that anyone was keeping him safe as he was designated as a fall risk. This is where his sister and brother in law’s presence came to be a good thing. At least Nick had them to watch his back at that awful place. Oddly enough, there are now multiple lawsuits against the facility since someone died, of septic shock if I recal correctly, there recently. For as expensive as that kind of care, and for how vulnerable people are when they need it, it breaks my heart that this is the best thing that America can come up with for our loved ones.

Anyway, moving forward, the group of local poa’s got Nick situated in an independent living community. It was another shock to see Nick’s living expense go from something like $700/month to $2600/mo for an apartment. Again, wow moment here. With the boomers aging, I can’t believe we don’t have more affordable housing options for our sick and elderly. It’s geared toward bankrupting people in my opinion. Not to mention in home care visits which were running about $1500/mo for things like showers and eye drops.

It’s also been an emotional challenge. I didn’t get along with one of the other medical poa’s first of all. So we decided to just stay out of each other’s way. Forever. Then there is coping with the loss of my old friend and life long advisor. The man who survived is changed. It’s hard for me to accept that the man who came home from the Whetstone was not the same man I’ve known and relied on for so many decades. Even now it brings me to the edge of a tear or two. Still, he’s alive and comfortable. He’s got his friends and he’s living a life.

It makes me wonder though. I plan to draw up my will this year and put some do not resuscitate orders in place if I can that far in advance. While Nick is not a burden in anyway, I would rather check out if I went through what he did, or my worst fear, become a shut-in due to a stroke. I wish America had laws protecting our quality of life, and dignity in death, by our own choice.

But yeah, so I’ve learned a great deal about compassion, empathy, strength and, yes, Medicare (which is flaming expensive for a Civil Servant who never paid into Social Security). I’ve learned about the industry built up around older people and the sick and how to be as financially resourceful as possible. The experience has also taught me how to better let go of frustrating people. Stop giving them the energy which had been causing me so much stress. I’ve witnessed the induced dementia caused by anesthesia performed on a stroke victim for a hernia surgery That put Nick in such a bad place he was calling upwards of 25 times a day despondent and fully believing the hospital was going to kill him. In time he went back to normal, but those are the moments where a caregiver and friend can feel hopeless.

Nick was robbed of his retirement years. His ability to write (he was an amazing writer and historian before the event). It took away his ability to reason and logically breakdown the world around him. He lost his articulation and sharp wit. His ability to walk and drive. I don’t know what the stroke gave him in return, but it gave me a chance to grow as a man and a friend.

I suppose this is the point of the post. Watching someone suffer? It’s raw and it hurts like fuck. But it’s not hopeless. Time is the healer of everything. While we may be powerless to change the circumstances, we have all the power to accept the situation, and grieve our losses, together. To find the strength within ourselves, when we have none left, to build new friendships and spend the remaining time we have together just as we always have. As friends.

Photo by Jonathan Rados
Photo by Jonathan Rados on Unsplash


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Winter

Eddie and I joined a local grocery service called Yellow Bird last year. Basically, they source out vegetables, meats, grains, and many other grocery store items from local farmers. There have been many benefits to this for us. First, we are presented with things that challenge us like Napa Cabbage, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, Daikon Radishes, and turnips. Things that never made our lists before when we were Kroger shoppers. The fact that it’s local means that it supports Ohio farmers. The food doesn’t go through carbon expensive supply chains and, most importantly, is not a part of factory farming practices so popular these days.

One of Eddie’s friends lent us a book called cooking by the seasons decades ago. Ted. He had an incredible palette, sharp sense of humor, an amazing collection of cigarette butt filled coffee cans. The large ones. I think of him most in the months of January and February. It’s in these two months, Winter, that I really feel the urge to retreat into myself and do a fair amount of reflection.

More evidence of that includes some work on my hiking and camping gear inventory. I picked up a new water filter, a foldable saw, some new camp sandals and a new two-person tent for buddy hiking. I need to work on getting some convertible shorts, a winter sleep sack for next year and a GPS device (not so much for this year but for the longer hikes I aspire to in 2020). That and some audio/video gear for creating trail vlogs.

But it’s March. My outdoor trips are going to start back up again. Work has been amazing. And there’s Napa cabbage to roast.

Napa Cabbage

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
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