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…

Weddings, Holidays & politics make for a bad tasting cocktail

Special events can bring out the worst in people. It’s natural. Weddings for instance. These can be emotionally draining for the parents, and participants, of these celebrations. Placing one up next to a Holiday like Thanksgiving? Well, it can be both amazing and come with some friction in the troubling era of the Alt-Right.

So, I have a relative who has an uncontrollable bad-boy sense of humor. He’s a loving father and a good husband to his wife. A great person to go drinking all night with and partying on the patio on a summer day. This man is a force of nature all of his own. Italian. Great cook. Fun to be around, for the most part.

And yet he has a history of sitting in his chair, violently grabbing the remote control and shouting “LIAR,” and other obscenities, at the TV when Obama came on the news. Devoutly anti Democrat. Unwilling to listen to anything besides his own rhetoric, or that of Fox News, or worse. I’ve known the guy for 27 years now. I accept how he is, because he is more than this.

However, it was while at his daughter’s wedding dinner when he was making the “dad speech” that he crossed a line. With me at least. This is the family that I chose to spend most of my “family time” with, over my own, through the past two plus decades. And while my own clan is rural and leans conservative, we have our own hardliners and, not to mention our fair share of instabilities, I never felt made lesser by speech that was intended to exclude a whole segment of the American populous. Part of which I am a member. For once I don’t mean gay either, but Democrat.

It’s funny, I read Brene Brown’s book titled “Braving the Wilderness.” She describes a ton of great ideas and paradigms in this book. It’s on my re-read list for some time when I am out camping overnight. But as it relates to this post, she talks about “speaking truth to bullshit.” Not in the sense of challenging conflicting ideas, but in leaning into discomfort. Listening. Trying to understand. Empathizing. Above all else, remaining civil. She also talks about coming together as a family. All kinds of ideologies and walks of life present. Laughing, dancing and enjoying great home cooked food.

So, when I confronted my relative, with a flat face, that I didn’t think what he said was funny his wife dutifully interjected and dismissed me by saying “oh, that’s just how he is!” Well, that was it for me. I know how he is. I’ve known him for 27 years. We’ve partied, laughed, enjoyed the same family together and still, this. With me and my husband in the room. For his daughter’s wedding dinner speech.

Clearly, this was an opportunity for me to turn the other cheek, but I felt that it was important for me to convey how belittled his words made me feel. “I don’t care who my daughter marries as long as it isn’t a Democrat! Bwa Ha Ha Ha Ha!<applause> From the man who I repeatedly watched scream at the TV when Obama, or some other figure, was on, after he hit mute, refusing to listen and expressing nothing but pure unveiled hatred while opening his home to us as guests.

The challenge becomes realizing when we are actually attacking family members though. Not just family members, but each other in the larger world. We would do better to speak truth to bullshit more often. Not by challenging ideas that don’t agree with yours or mine, but by telling each other how they make us feel. Just as I wished to convey with my statement that that particular part of the speech was offensive to me. It made me feel unwelcome within the family itself. I suppose it was not anti gay, at least not outright anyway, still, I tend to draw my line slowly. Like over 27 years in this case. I felt that I could not hold back on this one, and the communication was at least semi private. Or at least very quiet and low drama.

Like most things, time heals all wounds. But I wonder, how good is it at bridging these kinds of rifts when one of the parties involved can’t even listen to opposing ideas on TV without screaming at the device fully muted? I know though, this is just how he is. It’s OK. Right???


An overnight while hiking the Double Arches in the Red River Gorge

There was a moment this weekend when I looked up into the night sky, while ducking out of the tent during the early hours of the morning, as I was visiting the Daniel Boone National Forest in 22-degree temps. Wearing nothing more than long johns, a hat and an REI puffer jacket, with too little down. The sight overhead, through the nearly barren trees, made me feel small, but significant and full of possibility again. I think that’s why I am seeking out these remote places for two years, and counting, after sitting behind a computer screen for too many decades. It’s my journey toward freedom and meaning. Well that and slowly teaching myself to enjoy life and stop worrying all the time.

I drove 4 hours to Kentucky to spend my weekend outdoors in the Daniel Boone National Forest this weekend. I didn’t have the tech handy to catch starry sky moment but, as I said before, every time I got out of my tent that night to take a comfort break, facing the brunt of the Winter temps that dipped into the lower 20’s, it held my attention longer than the discomfort of being cold demanded.  The trees are now in the process of shedding their summer leaves. Yet it was all the stars above that blazed like a blanket of light, showing the full arc of the Milky Way, through the branches that just crushed me. This alone was worth the 4-hour trip down from Columbus. It made me glad for feeling cold, for the drive down South of Lexington Kentucky, for being solo outdoors for another weekend (until Sunday when I met up with a hiking group through Red River Gorge for the first time), the time away from the comforts of home, and grateful for the remaining heat from my campfire to warm myself by while simply looking up at the Kentucky night sky. It was absolutely incredible.

Sunday came and I met up with four other hikers, mostly from Lexington, at a Cit Go station. To use this area for hiking you have to get a pass to put on your car if you are staying more than the day. You can get this pass at the Glade Visitor Center or at most gas stations around the area. After that, you just hang the pass in your car after parking at the gas station or along Tunnell Ridge Road if you are lucky enough to score a spot. Then head down whatever trail head you want to head down.

Today we did the Double Arches trail under the guidance of our leader and her husband. These folks are teachers in their early 30’s. World travelers and socially conscious people. There was a woman who runs her own accounting business. Great conversationalist and adept hiker. Lastly another gentleman in his early sixties who is an avid hammock camper, seasoned hiker and playwright. The group was pretty awesome actually. I walked away from my first event with the Central Kentucky Backpackers group experience seriously impressed.


We walked through the hills, watched as the rock formations rose and fell. Sat on the peaks we climbed. Talked about our life stories. Learned about the Gorge on the larger scope. The Double Arches were beautiful and the views were stunningly full of rock formations, cliffs, a bowl full of blazing orange, red and gold trees. From there we trekked over to Haystack Rock and then we walked the ridge back to the car.


I may go back there this weekend for an overnight “how-to” with another group Central Kentucky Backpackers organizer if I can manage the time. This is an area that is probably going to be on my short list for an annual trip.





Lessons in compassion on my commute

I was witness to two beautiful exchanges between my fellow City dwellers while sharing a bus ride together recently. They happened to be homeless. But, their kindness and the sheer magnitude of their efforts humbled me to the core.

I am an urban man. I have chosen to live in the centers of both Dallas and Columbus down towns now for over 20 years. Today? I work one mile from my old brick and mortar three story storefront home. I either coerce a ride from my husband, take the free bus or walk to work most mornings. While I love being in the wilderness, I belong on the City streets. It’s where magic, big ideas and progress happens.

So it’s autumn in Ohio. The days are getting shorter. The air is chilly, it’s rainy, variably cloudy with sunshine that makes the “fall color” magic happen. As such, the leaves are beginning to thin, change and blaze all shades of the brilliant but dead spectrum. Another summer dying to be reborn the next year. Memories inscribed and challenges met. Change ever present testing our resilience to redefine annually.

There were two moments however that caused the world to slow around me as I looked on in nothing less than respect and awe. One where a homeless woman asked for a dollar bill in exchange for a rough estimation of change. Then it was a homeless man who answered her call. Without hesitation. The other was when another homeless man asked for a cigarette and different homeless man gave one up without question.

These experiences left me with a profound reflection about compassion. Not Christian “compassion” mind you. Hard core, you are shunned, and invisible, to everyone in your Country compassion. It’s nuts and bolts life at that level. But life it is. As such, there is always beauty when there are people who choose to see you are present. When that happens, that spark in the dark while it’s raining like fuck, there is always hope. There is always love in even the smallest of things from the weakest and smallest and most vulnerable of us. All it takes is a spirit of giving and a little empathy.

In the era where we currently live, there is a great deal to learn from the homeless. Especially as I walk home from Katzinger’s Delicatessen with a bag full of great food while passing by a woman curled up in a sleeping bag in the rain inside a doorway of a church. The idea that we are all one People. This is all our home. Yes, you can have one of my cigarettes. Yes I will share my change with you. She got one of my potato latkes. What she didn’t get was judgement from me. We all deserve to be embraced.

A hike through Great Seal State Park

I joined the great folks form Hike Ohio once again this weekend for another Sunday hike in a place I had never been before, Great Seal State Park. But first, I decided to go do an overnight at a place that is seriously on my radar as I have read some really good stuff about it, Tar Hollow State Park and it did not disappoint.

It was another long week at the office. Lots of crazy good things happening right now in the digital transformation sphere within a massive organization and all of my peers have a hand in it. Kind of one of those life era’s where what you do has a measurable, and sometimes immediate, impact. It was also a great week in the AHA Support Network where I am continually impressed by the level of empathy this community of folks, whom I am a member, holds for one another like a bright light in the dark. This is my week day life though.

So back to Saturday night under the trees. As I have written about before, I am enjoying everything about being outdoors right now. Be it walking by the river after work, running, hiking, swimming (in warm months). Short trips or longer… no matter. I spent way too many years plugged into a computer terminal both at work and at home. Every life era comes with a choice. Especially given the battle we all lose with time in the end. Life is what you have the courage to grab right now, with no regrets, square on, at all times.

One minute windstorm video

Tar Hollow State Park is an easy drive from Columbus. Nestled in beautiful Southern Ohio. An area that I am liking more and more as time goes on. I stayed at site 105 which is in a small loop of primitive campsites deep inside the park and up on a ridge that is surrounded by heavy tree cover. When I got there I was pleased to see a good deal of other tent and tarp campsites setup already. Some folks, no doubt, taking advantage of the State Forest hiking trails which I plan to check out soon enough.

One minute campfire video

I got things setup, a fire started, dinner prepped and a good book ready in quick order. As the sun dipped however the dark clouds started to roll in along with powerful winds and some steady rain. The effect of the wind felt more like those cold fronts that would come in off the planes North of Dallas when we lived there. Sustained, howling, strong. The following morning on the way out of the park I saw a ton of blow down on the roads and even encountered mature trees on the hiking path that were knocked down by Saturday nights wind. It might have been a touch dangerous but it was a unique experience to be outdoors in a windstorm like that. Of course, the temperatures dropped significantly so I slept in my long johns, gloves, knit cap and, eventually, my down jacket inside my 32-degree sleeping bag.

The drive over to Great Seal State Park took about 30 some minutes from Tar Hollow. Really pretty views of pumpkin patches, now brown corn fields, farms, small pockets of rural homes, and the still green leaves that are now starting to wax yellow and brown in some areas. The park has a history that surprised me. I was reading in 50 Hikes in Ohio by Ralph Ramey about it last week. Chillicothe was once in the running to become the State Capital of Ohio. And it was after a night of playing cards that Thomas Worthington, who went on to become a US Senator, walked out into the early morning hours and was taken by the sunrise coming up over Sugar Loaf mountain, left, and Bald Hill, right, that he proclaimed, “there is our <State> seal.” Ramey goes on to talk about the history of the times between its occupation by the Hopewell Indians, the settlers, the logging and corn liquor industry eras. It really has a colorful background.

I met the group of 18 hikers at 9:30 am on Sunday. We were all bundled up. Packs on full of water bottles, snacks with trek poles in our hands. The trail was well maintained and easy to navigate. We climbed Bald Hill, which, while strenuous, was not bad. We also went down the Shawnee Ridge and Sand Hill Trails. At one high point, I think our guide said it is the highest point in all of Ohio, there was a set of outdoor furniture setup, complete with a table, chairs and a wooden bench swing. Who set all that up? More power to you folks. There’s nothing like walking through groves of trees though and feeling the crisp autumn air in your lungs while being bathed in golden green sunlight through the canopy. It was, in a word, perfect. Only more so because of the camaraderie in meeting new folks, seeing folks from past hikes, sharing stories and a little bit of outdoor effort in climbing the hills and hopping tree branches, rocks and blow downs from the previous night together.

Next week I have a tricky conflict. My niece is getting married and I am going to try to squeeze in one more Sunday hike in Zaleski with another Hike Ohio organizer. It’s an 8-mile trek in an additional State Forest I have not visited. One which was provisioned by a Polish exile who invested in the Zaleski Mining Company, the town of Zaleski, and, of course, Zaleski Furnace fueled by the ample timber growing in the area. So, here’s hoping it’s not a morning wedding… otherwise that could become a difficult choice.

Camping & a group hike at Lake Hargus

The first camping and hiking trip of the season went well. It gave me ample opportunity for both solitude, rest, making new friends and physical activity.

I arrived at HW Marion State Park Campground around 4 yesterday. It was a little tighter and cramped for space than I am used to while camping outdoors, even for a State Park. The facilities were sparse, and the proximity to others close, but it still made for a decent spot to pitch a tent. Being October, it’s getting chilly here in Ohio. I was more than happy to dive into my shelter, wrap up in my puffer jacket and take a nap before dinner.

As I lay there drifting off to sleep I listened to the sounds of the family adjacent to my site. A father, wife, grandmother and a young son. I was once again flooded with memories of my parents taking us camping as kids with my grandparents in an adjoining lot. Breece corner in a wooded private lot as it were.

I woke up, put on my camp shoes and started to make dinner. My last package of Dottie’s Chicken and Biscuits. While packing yesterday. I noticed the TSA confiscated my Toaks stove and my Esbit fuel. The stove probably because of the fuel residue, but my heat shield and spork. Really? Ah well, I had my trusty JetBoil for this weekend. Almost like an old friend as it was one of my big things I got from 2017 when I first began to combat anxiety by getting back outdoors. Away from 911. Surrounded by nature. Forcing myself to remember to live without fear for the sake of living. No choice.

After cleaning up, I dove back into the shelter, stripped down, donned my long johns, wool socks, knit hat, light gloves and crawled into my sleep sack with my small movie player. Before turning on a film, I once again listened to the sounds all around me. The muted sound of 80’s music, campfires, people talking, drinking, laughing. It was a pretty beautiful moment actually. Even if I didn’t muster the energy to raise my own campfire, it was nice to experience everything around me in a shared sense of the simple joy of being someplace where collective good times were being had.

I woke up a couple times in the night, got out, walked around a bit and looked at the few stars I could see through the trees. The rain started somewhere around 3 am or 4 am by my guessing. The sound of it served to knock me back out into a dream-ridden deep sleep. Gently impacting upon my tent cover as it fell through the tree cover, still green with the passing summer. The cool 39 degree, and crisp, air outside contrasting with my body heat filled one man tent that I was nestled inside. Warm, sleeping and happy. I slept 9 hours in fact. It’s amazing what the outdoors can do for our general health and patterns.

I got up the next day, broke camp early and went into Circleville to have breakfast before the Hike Ohio group was to meet at 10 am for the Lake Hargus trail loop. There were about 30 or so of us. I had to tie my boot lace one more time so I ended up bringing up the rear, which was fine, but there were a couple folks who were really physically struggling. One guy made me nervous, and several other hikers as well. We all gave him the full path ahead without complicating things by passing him. Some distance. I was afraid that he would suddenly tumble down one of the hills with his big wooden hiking stick flailing about like a baseball bat.

He eventually dropped off the trail with two other folks but we were effectively cut off from the larger group at that point. Still, the four of us made fast friends and we explored the trail system. Stumbling upon an old cemetery with dates like 186x, 1812, and so on, over these lichen-covered weathered headstones with barely visible writing. From there we caught the blue blazed lake trail and came upon great views of the shores, tree lines, walking through marinas and talking about fishing and canoeing/kayaking.

One of the guys I made friends with today talked about my camping last night and that I should have put a notice out about that on the group channel. I told him I opted not to because I didn’t want to sound creepy. He allayed those fears saying that a lot of people probably would have been into that. Thinking about that possibility made me consider what those campfire conversations would have looked like. So yeah, maybe next time John.

The five of us, we picked up a latecomer, ended our excursion with lunch at Brew Dog. I’d had their beers before, but I’d never been to the facility in Washington Courthouse before. Totally awesome. Really enjoyed the place.

Next up is a 13-mile hike in Great Seal Park this coming Sunday. I plan to not fall behind on this one, shoelaces first, and try to camp out again in the even smaller, non-reservable, campsites in the park. The cool thing about these two hikes is that they are super close to Columbus. Like within an hour or less. While I love Columbus, she always has a way of surprising me with these hidden gems. I’m looking forward to more weekends outdoors as the leaves fall from the trees and the shadows grow longer. There are definitely campfires in my future. I can almost smell them.

First hike & camping trip of autumn

September was a crazy good month for me but it wore me out in some areas. Starting with the Olympic Mountain hike and ending with a week in Orlando at Microsoft Ignite. It was a very good month overall. Still, change is ever present and as we near the middle of October I am feeling the need to get back outdoors again so I have signed up for two hikes with the good folks from Hike Ohio and decided to do a solo hike through the Dolly Sods during the last week of October.

This weekend starts with an overnight camping trip at H. W.Marion State Park. A chance to light a fire, eat and read outside, make tea and look at the stars on Saturday night. Then I plan to break camp after breakfast and meetup with the group and join them for the Lake Argus loop trail. Somewhere between 7 & 8 miles from the sounds of it.

I guess it’s time to repair my loose chest strap on my backpack, lay everything out and pack it up for the first hiking trip of the autumn season. I’m hoping to catch some great fall colors, make new friends, and enjoy some natural beauty while sending out major grateful vibes for the ability to be able to do this stuff at all. Truth be told, if I could, I’d leave more often, for longer periods of time and probably end up with horrible worse table manners if I had a choice.

Lake Hargus Trail

Tapas & conversation

There was a boy who decided to carry a shield in the 6th grade. His dad’s old briefcase. He was looking for a way to feel important. Something more. A validation of his internal compass being slightly different than that of all the other boys around him. Or so it seemed at the time. His friends, rightly, warned him that this was tantamount to putting a target his back however he was not able to hear that. Until tonight when that boy, now a man, had dinner with a woman who he met back in sixth grade. The one who gave him those warnings. The one who used to duck out of school, taking a back route, to avoid the bullying that was ever present for both of us. Me as a confused gay kid and her as a confused transsexual person. Equally distant from our true selves as children, but with all the markup that brought us to tonight at Barcelona restaurant in German Village.

Truth be told, I was nervous all week. I spoke with my husband and my best friend about it in fact. Not in the friendship I have with her today. But in the awareness of all the insidious ways that my own privilege of knowing my gender so easily matches my genitalia and the socialization that is part of my programming which can have a way of making others feel less. I have trans contacts, yes, but this is my first childhood ally who was brave enough to realize a new and open reality. I was nervous I would inadvertently say the wrong thing. Use the wrong pronoun. Default to old names that were no longer relevant. I felt intensely aware of the cadence of the conversation and tried to make sure I made every effort to embrace the woman before me as nothing less than one of the bravest, strongest, most courageous and honest people I have ever met in my lifetime. A true friend.

Oddly enough, there was an On Being mailer this week, I love that podcast, it provided the following quote by Gustavo Santaolalla.

“I’d like not to think that [in] every phase in my life, I leave phases behind. In my country, we say ‘Yo ya supere eso’ — ‘Already, I’m over that.’ Now I’m in another phase of my life. And I always thought that it was better to try to keep on adding to your life. Let’s say you have the child, then the teen, then the young man. You carry these people with you.”

It reminds me of the closing scene from Beautiful Boxer, which I watched when I lived in Dallas, where the main character sits on a bus stop, as a beautiful woman, and looks to her side and sees the boy, the young man, the athletic and muscular boxer, the troubled trans person, all sitting beside her as individual people. But, all, the same person.

The saddest part of the night for me though was that my friend, and her wife who joined us tonight, have a “backup plan.” Money set aside for a quick escape should things get violent. An actual escape route to Canada. With gas tank volume, time, and mileage calculations. Then onto Germany or Norway. Places where it is thought to be safer for trans folks and their families. That there is a climate of violence against trans people brings me back to the days of Mathew Sheppard, and countless other horrific events. The days when gay/bi men & women had to hide for fear of bashing, unemployment, loss of family. The, not so far away days when gay/bi folk could not dance together in public under “fire laws” in Columbus Ohio. Or had to speak through a sliding window built into a door of a hidden back alley bar to gain entrance. Or being left with little option but to adopt a dangerous practice of cruising in alleys and public parks just to get off as we all stood outside of acceptable culture. The whole situation smacks of persecution in the form of fear. It always has.

I spent years of my early manhood working through the process of coming out. I spent decades more debugging my code to extricate the internalized homophobia that I picked up along the way of growing up. When my friend reminded me tonight of the briefcase I carried, and the warnings she gave me as a 6th grade child born into the wrong body, I am left feeling like, maybe there is credence to the idea that we meet the people we do for a reason after all. I’m gay. My friend is trans. We are both in technology fields for great companies. Both of our bosses are women. While change is constant. It is a slow, glacial powerful force.

Tonight left me feeling like I have work to do for the trans community. Work to do for diversity in tech, and in the world at large. It also left me with the hope that things are changing and that I know how to continue to carry that as far as I am able to do so.

Well, that and friendship over a good meal with inspiring people. That’s the best that anyone can hope for in my opinion. Life is best when it’s full of open love and fulfillment after all.