Unbidden

A lot of things have come up since the accident and since I’ve been without a car. Thoughts coming to me unbidden, some realizations, and re-learning some lessons. A lot of them revolving around my perceptions of people and their perceptions of me, but many of them dealing with the future.

Been spending the past couple of days looking at used Ford E-250 and E-350 vans. Finally at a point where I don’t care if people tell me what I want to do is impractical, costs too much money, or “seems like a bad idea” or “poor life choice”. I feel as though I’ve been rediscovering my sense of possibility and some sense of myself.

And what that renewed sense is screaming out to me is a singular word: adventure.

It wasn’t too long ago where I had people telling me all sorts of things, some in a passive, anecdotal, roundabout way of trying to dissuade me, and others actively telling me that what I wanted or was thinking about was impossible or impractical.  At the time, I knew they meant well, and I still have gratitude for that.  That being safe and responsible is acceptable.  That the road well-traveled isn’t evil.

At the same time, I can’t help but look at those admonitions as some kind of low-level fear.  Fear, I’ve since realized, that doesn’t belong to me at all.

It’s not that I feel invincible or that any choice I make is without some kind of consequence or trade-off–quite the opposite.  I’m all-too-aware of them.  I recognize that every day not spent in the pursuit of what makes me happy and what makes my life worth living is time wasted.  As Henry Rollins put it, “Like bucket full of water not carried carefully; wasted.”  When the opportunities to be happy with less, but spent in the pursuit of what matters to me, present themselves… what would be the point in letting it slip?  Putting it off until “retirement”?  Being a weekender until it was too late to make it something bigger?

I don’t know if I could live with myself if I resigned myself to that.  If I settled.

So, given all of the things that have happened the last few weeks, I’m going to start focusing my energy on the build-out and construction of the so-named “Adventure Van”.  Anybody that knows me knows I’ve had a fascination for #VanLife for a very long time.  My first attempt at something resembling this was interesting in every sense of the word.

I learned a lot in that month on the road–lots of things about what I need, what I don’t, what I would do with my time if money and ambition were not insurmountable.  I learned that I have an appetite for these kinds of adventures.  That I didn’t need anybody’s permission or approval.  That even given mechanical problems and logistical challenges, I could overcome them all.  I stretched way beyond my comfort zone (and experienced both altitude sickness and beautiful sunrises as a direct result).

For me, the question now isn’t whether or not I can do it, but more about whether or not this choice (and the huge number of others that will follow) will lead me to the kind of life I want to lead.  It’s leading me to a lot of more complex questions about what I do for work, whether that work aligns with my values and goals, whether or not that work is something I want to continue growing in, or if I want to try and leave and do something completely different.

But for now, focusing on work and simplifying my life are the best first steps I can make in any direction.

If Only

Let us not be strangers when next we meet; instead I pray we should greet each other as kindred spirits.  Ancient souls inextricably and inexplicably linked together by gossamer threads of existence.

Experiences shared would be our bread, emotion and empathy our wine and aperitifs.  Fortunate indeed would we be if we could pray in our own ways in this temple of the universe, our religion of sharing and professing a deep and abiding love.  To wildly careen into an ecstatic and and effervescent dream with you would give the universe pause.

To what end these desires seek?  To set hearts ablaze, purge despair, and slay anger.  Is it a mission? A directive?  No, merely an imperative bestowed upon us from aeons past.

I weep inwardly, knowing well the depths of my own darkness–knowing that you too possess such a well.  The agony of such a wound, irreparable by any hands untempered, that know nothing of your struggle.

I would know it, if you would but venture beyond yourself.

Grant me sight into that well and know that these hands are tempered in the fires of love, quenched within the depths of compassion.  Breathe with me, and I would make it so.

If only in seeking solace you would come to honor yourself, your struggle, and hold space and love for yourself.  I would have you smile and be heard.  If only you would begin.

If only.

I’m afraid

Afraid of going it alone.

Afraid of failure.

Afraid of what people might think (or already do).

Afraid of my giving my all and going nowhere.

Just like a lot of people.  Maybe even just like you.

What would happen if you admitted your deepest fear to someone you cared about?  Someone you trusted?  Someone you admire or are inspired by?

What if they admitted that they felt that way too?  What if they told you their deepest fears?  Would you be able to give them the same in return?

Admitting our fear is one of the many steps we all have to take to take the next step.  If we let F.U.D., whether from our inner critics or from the ones in front of your face, make our decisions for us… we’ve given away our agency.

Let me be among the many to admit that I’m afraid.  Every.  Damn.  Day.  But that struggle hasn’t blocked me from chasing what I want.  Hopefully you can find it within yourself to keep struggling too.

Generations

Someone came before you. A hundred-thousand-fold came before we were even close to being present. Some would argue that many of us aren’t even “present” now: staring at our phones, our televisions, our computers–anything but each other. Which is a shame because the immense miracle that is our history on this planet is a tale that is worth remembering.

This planet formed as a consequence of the inherent mayhem of the universe. Millions of stars have gone before us, forming the dense matter that permeates our very bodies to our core and forms the basis of life as we know it. That life was borne into pools via simple forms like bacterium and viruses, and slowly we evolved from the millions of other species that evolution provided and the chaos of the universe saw fit to sweep aside.

From our earliest days on this Earth, we have survived and thrived. We have struggled and adapted: tools, agriculture, culture, technology, and ultimately civilization. What we fail to remember is the untold generations that lived and struggled and fought to bring us to where we are today.

I would hope that if there is an afterlife, and my ancestors can see me and know my story, that they would be proud of me. Just as I hope that yours would be proud of you. You are wired for struggle. Embrace it. Lean in.

Teach them well

You’re a parent even if you don’t realize it.  A parent to friends, coworkers, others’ children, maybe even your own children.  A parent to your own inner child, even.  I wish someone (anyone, really) had been a better parent for me—including myself.  I say and do things that aren’t the least bit flattering to observers.  I berate myself for small mistakes, I don’t give myself even the slightest leeway in creative or physical pursuits, I am unable to be a hundred percent present.  All of which might understandably give someone the impression that I’m an angry and uncompromising person one-hundred percent of the time, which isn’t always true.

There are an incalculable number of things I wish I could have done to make things better, a huge number of lessons I wish I could have imparted on the people I’ve met throughout my life.  Allowing the children you see to have a sense of mastery and purpose, fostering a sense of purpose, granting them the space to explore themselves and their surroundings, uninhibited, in the inseparable interests of discovery and growth.

Let them have the opportunity and space to fail.  They’ll ask for help when they need it.  They’ll surprise you as they learn to do what may have taken you years to learn, and you might even surprise yourself.  I wish I could have discovered earlier that what drives my criticism of other people is the intense criticism I hold for myself.  Failure was either too expensive or criticized ruthlessly by parents or peers.

Grant them the courage to ask the hard questions and speak on their difficult and thorny truths.  The worst that you can do to them is to stifle their ability to tell you how they feel by making them feel unsafe.  I wish I would have had the space to be able to say “you make me angry because you live such a small life and it doesn’t seem like you really try”.

Don’t just be a bystander–be involved.  They’re in your life for a reason, and it’s your job to figure out what that reason is.  Similarly, you’re in their life for a reason–and it’s your job to help them find their joy and to be present with them in it.  I’ve had to struggle with the fact that I never had someone involved in the things I was interested in or anyone to encourage me growing up.  Having to find my own motivation for things and struggling with finding validation outside of myself instead of having my own validation and a sense of fulfillment.

In short: be the person that you would have wanted others to be.  Be the parent that you’d wished you’d had.  Be the friend that others see you as.

Splitboarding

Splitboarding is probably the most interesting activity I’ve ever engaged in.  Ever since I first saw one and saw its potential for what it could make available to me in terms of terrain and travel options, I wanted to try it.  Watching movies like the Jeremy Jones Trilogy (Deeper, Further, and Higher respectively) gave me a yearning for being able to make turns and have adventures like that.

I never realized how fucking difficult splitboarding really is.

I got my first splitboard kit, a 161 K2 Panoramic Split, from an online sale last Spring.  I couldn’t believe the price, and I also couldn’t quite wrap my head around the fact that I wouldn’t have to buy special boots or bindings unlike my friends who are mostly skiers.  I was giggling like a five-year-old kid when it shipped to my apartment, and I spent the better part of two hours reading about how to get it set-up.

Fast-forward to Winter 2017.

I’d been doing a bunch of lower-body training to try and get my legs ready.  I’d been searching for places near my new apartment in New Hampshire where uphill travel was allowed so I could practice during the early season.  I bought books, read blog posts, signed up for AIARE 1 (in March), and asked almost every friend that I knew who’s gone into the backcountry to share their insight with me.

And still, I’m struggling.  Either I’m not strong enough to make turns in East Coast conditions, or I’m clearly not good enough at snowboarding yet to make splitboarding a worthwhile investment of time.

And it’s kind of getting in my head a bit.  Let me rewind a little bit and talk about some of the tours I’ve been out on and maybe that’ll help fill some gaps.

I started by doing the AMC Winter School back before I had a snowboard.  I acquired snowshoes and a backpack capable of handling winter sports, signed myself up, and spent the weekend getting my ass handed to me.  I thought I was in good shape, but clearly I was sorely mistaken.  I couldn’t make any appreciable turns coming down from Firescrew Mountain on the Duke Ski Trail, broke a trekking pole on the way down, and had to snowshoe my way back out to the cabin.  The second day was only marginally better, where we ended up taking the Kimball Ski Trail up to Bowden Hill and doing some tree runs.  I actually made turns in the trees, but the weekend utterly wiped me out.

I started working on building my endurance after that weekend.  I thought I was improving–emphasis on thought.

I started this past December fairly strong.  I started using my Loon season pass and making use of the Uphill Access Policy there by skinning my way up to Loon Peak and then snowboarding the rest of the day.  I started getting my overall times under an hour and forty-five minutes.

At this point, I was invited to tour Mount Cardigan with a friend I’d met on Facebook.  It had just snowed eight inches overnight and was continuing to snow into the morning, so I said “sure, why not”.  Turns out the snow was extremely wet and heavy, which made riding for me exceptionally difficult as well as for my newfound friend’s wife.  In addition, we also fought freezing-rain all the way up to the peak at Firescrew Mountain and flat-spots all the way down.  Freezing and soaked to the bone, we limped our way back to the cabin.

Round two was today.  Instead of freezing rain, we instead were dealing the fallout of the “bomb cyclone” that had just ravaged the entire East Coast of the country from Florida all the way to Maine.  Temperatures were already below-zero and the addition of winds topping twenty miles an hour removed another dozen-plus degrees Fahrenheit from the air.  We decided to do Duke Meadows a couple times to get a feel for just how bad it was going to be and then re-evaluate.  I made one run down, tumbling only a dozen feet from where I’d started due to an unseen wind-drift, and tried to go back to touring mode to get a second run.  I discovered that my skins were iced-over and I was going to have to boot-pack my way out of the meadows back to the cabin’s boot-room to dry things off.

My friend (sans wife for this trip) hooked-up with a couple of other skiers who were headed all the way up Duke Ski Trail to the peak at Firescrew, so I booked it for the cabin.  Spent a half-hour or so there waiting for my skins to dry enough for me to be able to get back out to Duke Meadows and get another run or two.  In the interim, I moved both sets of pucks as far back onto the tail of the board as I was physically able, thinking that it might help me keep my nose above the snow.  I figured the rest of the day was going to be a “gear shakedown day” for me, but my friend had other plans.  He apparently had already been up to the peak and all the way back to the cabin somewhere in that time, and radioed me after my second run of Duke Meadows and asked if I’d want to skin up the Alexandria Ski Trail all the way up to Mount Cardigan’s peak with him and the pair that he’d hooked-up with earlier.

I (stupidly) fired off a “Sure! Be right there!” to my friend.

Don’t get me wrong: Alexandria Ski Trail is beautiful.  Sweeping lines, huge rollers and nice elevation-change among the trees makes for a very interesting trail to ride down.  However, if I’d have thought about it more, I would have recognized several things:

  • I was tired as hell.
  • I was already pretty damn cold, touring for another two hours wasn’t going to help.
  • My patience (with myself mostly) was already absurdly thin.
  • My skins had already iced-over once.
  • Snow conditions were terrible for me.

The first and last points on the above list are what were the most prescient in retrospect.  The snow was a mixture of ice/hoar at the lowest layers, wet-and-heavy snow with a frozen layer about an inch thick above that from the freezing-rain event I described earlier, and on top of that was anywhere from a two-inch to ten-inch thick, wind-blown layer of ultra-dry powder.

The snow conditions played merry-hobb with my ability to make turns, especially with the route the skiers chose to ascend.  Heading directly onto the trail we were going to ride down, we ascended and switchbacked several steep sections that depleted my energy reserves and made riding safely impossible.  I tumbled at least twice, once into a downed sapling’s boughs (from which I now have a dollar-bill-sized bruise on one hip and several other quarter-sized bruises on various surfaces) and another because my snowboard “snow-plowed” into the aforementioned mixed-layer snow and caused me to flip end-over-end (also known as “tomahawking”) and tweak the utter hell out of my left knee.

To cut a long story short: the ride down was hell, the hike out was a worse kind of hell.  My skins were still iced-over, which means they weren’t going to stick to the splitboard even if I’d tried.  In retrospect, I recognize that I need to buy a couple adjustable straps to make skins remain attached in an emergency.

Which brings me to my current pickle: I’m frustrated, and I’m not sure if it’s me (my skills, my decisions, or my fitness) or if it’s just me being absurdly unlucky in conditions and minor injuries.  I honestly want to love backcountry snowboarding, I really do.  But the fact that I’m getting this worked just skinning up to an objective and being unable to make any good turns makes me think I need another year of strength and endurance training before I really try again.

More stuff to think about, I guess.

IMG_1629

Manhood

I’ve never thought of myself as a “man”.  Not in the sense of gender, but in the sense of title or age.

I hadn’t thought about the fact that up until recently I had always thought of myself as a “boy” or a “guy”–never a man.  To me, that was a title, something that was bestowed or achieved in some great accomplishment or recognition amongst peers.  Marriage, career, property, hobbies, pursuits… something in that cadre of the unobtainable (for me at least).

Or so I thought.

It dawned on me that I didn’t have any recognition or rituals to mark the passing or transformation of the “boy” into the “man” that other people seem to see me as these days.  Much like how some Buddhists seem to believe that enlightenment ebbs-and-flows, I’d had fleeting glimpses of it.  Just enough to give me some kind of idea as to how things could be different.

Just as soon as I’d seen it and recognized it for what it was, it would always fade.

Back into some sort of drama.  Some kind of waking-nightmare.  Something I’d gotten myself entangled with or been sucked into.  I admittedly wallowed in the bleakness of it all, feeling miserable for myself and spreading it to everyone else.

I realize now that though there were no celebrations or rituals to mark that transition, I think I found my own.  No rituals involved, no libations, none of that stuff; just the simple recognition that others see me as a more complete and responsible person now.  That in working so hard to be responsible and take responsibility–that in itself marked the change.

No transits of celestial bodies, no ritual sacrifices, no wild hunts or orgiastic, Dionysian calamities (though, that might have been fun a decade ago)… just a simple set of practices that became not just rote, but embedded in who I am.

I had to find that on my own.  I had to figure out how to fix a car, how to pay bills on time, how to make sense of the world, what my values were, and the kind of person I wanted to be.  I didn’t have a father figure to look to–mine was too busy working his ass off trying to put food on the table and distract himself.

I had to figure all of this out on my own, from my own volition and perseverence.

If that’s not proof of hard work, strife, and growth… then I don’t know what is.