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. Mohican State Forest, Ohio, 1/5/2019 to 1/6/2019
  2. Red River Gorge, Kentucky, 03/16/2019 to 03/17/2019
  3. Zaleski State Forest, Ohio, 4/13/2019 to 4/14/2019
  4. Tar Hollow State Park, Ohio, 5/11/2019 to 5/12/201
  5. Freedom Valley, 5/23/2019 to 5/26/2019
  6. Shawnee State Forest, Ohio, 6/15/2019 to 6/16/2019
  7. Hoosier National Forest, which is International Naked Hiking Day 06/21 incidentally, Indiana, 06/21/2019 to 6/23/2019
  8. Dolly Sods, West Virginia, 6/28/2019 to 6/30/2019
  9. Seneca Rocks, West Virginia, 7/1/2019 to 07/02/2019
  10. Camp Buckwood, 7/26/2019 to 7/28/2019
  11. Oil Creek Gerard Trail, Pennsylvania, 08/23/2019 to 08/26/2019
  12. Virginia Triple Crown, 9/12/2019 to 9/15/2019
  13. Clingman’s Dome Great Smoky Mountains NationalPark, North Carolina, 10/17/2019 to 10/20/2019
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…

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???

angry-white-men

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.

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