Next Steps

I have now lived in the same location longer than I have since moving out of my parents house 8 years ago. I didn’t realize this when I moved out, but I quickly became comfortable moving in, packing out and changing location to a point where that became the norm. I feel like I have to compensate for not moving by traveling or exploring in some way.

I was sitting, thinking about what I am really looking for. I realized I have many adventures in my head, but no conception of what it would actually take to make any of them happen. Thus, the list was born.

The list contains two columns, and many things that I want to do before I die. Among these are adventures varying from starting a Hobie Cat Class in the Duluth Sailing Association to climbing Mt Denali.

On the right (apparently I am writing right to left now…) I listed the things that I think I ought to do before settling down and having a family. I haven’t decided yet if these are things that I could do in a relationship before kids or if they need to be things I do completely on my own, but I guess that depends on who finds me.

On the left, I wrote the things that I could conceivably do while raising kids and having a family. These are generally more moderate things, and it will probably make some of you laugh out loud when you hear the things that I think I can do while there are toddlers pooping and screaming and running around at home. Once again, I suppose it depends on who I decide to live with.

Since making the list a couple weeks ago, several things have already been added. I have no doubt that I will never complete all the things that I put on the list. There are simply too many things to do in the world, but it does give me a good chunk of activities to work for each weekend.

Some of the items on the right side of the paper include: living in Alaska, climbing Denali, sail in the ocean in the Caribbean, and big wall climbing. The things like climbing and sailing lend themselves well to participating with other people, although I am not counting on them being the same people.

On the left side, I wrote, among other things: exploring glacial caves in Greenland/AK, Running 100 miles, starting a sailing club for small catamarans, getting a masters degree, and teaching abroad for an international school. Now that I put these down, I see that I probably won’t be bringing any children into the glacial caves, but that’s why I write things. I can see how ridiculous they are before I try them. Now I have time to recategorize that and do it sooner.

Another reason this list exists is because of all the people I see getting sucked into the daily grind. “The daily grind” shouldn’t exist at all. The fact that it is a thing that people say, and that I say, is a glaring indicator that I need to rethink the way that I am approaching my work and my life. Good things aren’t always easy, and I realize that teaching isn’t as hunky-dory as we all thought it was going to be when we were in college, but it shouldn’t be a grind. This led me to the question that I have been chasing since I started college and discovered that I could choose to do literally anything:

If you have a choice between boring and Awesome, why do so many people choose boring? How can I choose Awesome?

So many people look at explorers and adventurers and say, “Wow! I wish I could do that.” The only thing stopping you from that is yourself not going and doing it! Maybe there are some financial or physical boundaries, but you can get pretty damn close to doing whatever you want–you just have to actually go do the stuff.

So of course I start getting all worried. What if I am living my life boring? I decided I’m not, but I’m also not quite living my life amazing either. I am doing pretty good, but there’s lots of room for improvement. The last few summers, I have been mostly based at home. While Duluth is great, and I always plan to return, it is important to get out and live somewhere else for some time. I have lived in Germany, on the Gunflint and in Tucson. I don’t know where I am going next, but I know that I’m not done traveling.

Here’s to celebrating the places we’ve been, and to the places we’ll go.

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Place

Get ready for a somewhat disjointed blob of thoughts that I wish to share. Now that I am back to school, I have to wake up early, go to bed early, do things on time, show up to meetings, cook meals, etc. Basically, I have to be a functioning adult again. Not that that is a bad thing, but I do have more responsibility than just waking up and feeding myself now.

This is good. It makes me think about the world, about where I am going, and where I want to go. I spent the last couple days looking at jobs in Alaska for the upcoming summer. I have mixed feelings about leaving home, and have changed my opinions often, but as of September 17th, 2019, here is what I think:

1. People should leave home for a while. It is so important to have a world view. Getting to know people who aren’t from your state is important. If I were the ruler of the world, I would require people to spend at least 6 months in an area that speaks a different language. Language shapes the way people think, and generally that gets a person a little farther away from home, and out of their comfort zone. It’s awkward to be conceited or prejudice when you are the only person from the USA in a foreign country.

2. People should go back to their homes. After learning about other cultures, being exposed to new ideas, and learning how to communicate with people when words aren’t second nature, you will come home with a new respect and love for the place you grew up in, the people who you care about, and the community you spent the first several years of your life building.

I realize that not everybody has a home–I know students who have never lived in a place for longer than 2 years, I know people who don’t have a positive relationship to any blood relatives, and I know people who just can’t stand going back to the place they grew up in. But wouldn’t every community be a little bit better if most of the people who left came back after a while and gave back to their own communities?

I haven’t thought though every possibility here, so I do not intend to offend anyone. These are simply thoughts I have been thinking about since I attended a lecture from a professor who is Ojibwe. He spoke about the importance of place in a way that I hadn’t thought about before. It is our job to give our children two things: wings and roots. I never thought much about the roots, but they seem more and more important the more I think about them,

Hiking with Family

Until this week, I was convinced that the first day of every backpacking trip was destined to be miserable. For the first time, I set up camp and enjoyed my afternoon relaxing and fishing without feeling like death. I am convinced that this is mostly a result of two things: traveling with other people, and not going super far in the first day.

I hiked with Sophie and Zach, my sister and her husband. For the last couple years, we have been inseparable. They are without a doubt my best friends–we have guessed that if they were ever to divorce, it would be so that Zach could marry me. Needless to say, we get along well. Hiking with them for the first time, was a game-changer. First off, I wasn’t stuck in my head like I always am when I hike alone. I was able to think about other (normal?) things like the scenery and the next day’s mountain climb, rather than whether or not I am a real person (see my article about solo hiking thoughts). I also felt validated when I could complain with them about my feet hurting and they agreed. I wasn’t the weakest animal in the woods by myself. Now I was just another person. It turns out that people don’t talk to strangers about their sore feet, but they will talk to their brother about their sore feet. Yay traveling companions!

The beginning of the trip, spunky and not yet footsore.
Heading off to East Temple Peak
Home sweet home for the next two nights.

In addition to traveling with Sophie and Zach, our planned route did not involve breaking any distance records in the first day. I have a bad habit of comparing my distance traveled in the first day with how long it would take to complete a run of that length. Backpacking is not running. I can run 15 miles in an afternoon, maybe even 2 days in a row. It is not wise to try to walk that distance with 30 or 40 pounds of gear and food on your back, for 5 days in a row. Don’t do it. It actually sucks. Now that I think about it, I would probably never run that distance 5 days in a row, so I don’t know how I convinced myself to do that last year, with a 4000′ mountain climb in the middle. It also makes sense that I injured my knee while doing that last year. We hiked about 7 or 8 miles on our first day. That was plenty. The elevation change wasn’t significant either that helped. Tents were set up an naps were being had by 1:30 pm. Hanging out in camp all afternoon was very nice, but that also was improved by having other people to talk to during that time.

Resting my somewhat sore feet after only 8 miles.
We are going to walk to the top of the pointy one second from the left.

This was the third time I have ever hiked with other people for something longer than one night. This was the first time I hiked with a group of people who were all experienced hikers. It was much easier to go with a group of people who know what’s up. I will hike in groups again. But I will also hike solo again too. There is a magic to jumping up and hitting the trail at a moments notice, and sometimes nobody else is ready or able to jump up with you. But I will keep in mind the things that I have learned during this trip.

The top is very exposed, and thankfully not too windy.
Flowers still can grow at 12,500 feet.

Home away from Home

Last Saturday, I traveled across the country to the Rocky Mountains for the second time this summer (one of the many perks of being a teacher). The awesome part: I was traveling with my sister and brother-in-law!

For close to ten years, we have been trying to organize a trip out west to explore the mountains together. It finally materialized earlier this summer when I met them in Bozeman, MT. We had some good exploring times out there, but went our separate ways before too long.

Zach, is from Lander Wyoming. I have been here once before, and always planned to come back again, but it took longer than expected. Also, Sophie and Zach were not with me the last time I was here. I was traveling home from student teaching in Tucson. We made the drive out two days ago, and already are tired out from exploring!

We spent our first day mountain biking in the morning. One of the special things about Lander is the variety of landscapes. Within a 20-minute drive, you can go from pine forest to sagebrush and red rocks. Actually, you can do that by just changing sides of the valley, but more on that later. Johnny Behind the Rocks has a super cool trail with a great ridge line to ride down.

That afternoon, we spent time with family, catching up with cousins who recently moved back to town. I got to meet a lot of people for the second time in 4 years. But family are like automatic friends. I ate a lot of food and spent a lot of time playing foursquare with some kiddos.

Today, we met up with some old friends who are getting married next week. Shout-out to them for an excuse to come out here. We hiked up into Sinks Canyon and climbed all morning. As it turns out, climbing in Lander is very different from climbing in Minnesota. The rocks here are full of deep little pockets that you can latch onto with your fingers, whereas the rocks in Duluth are full of little crimpy edges. My fingers and toes are a bit sore tonight as a result of the change in style.

This evening, we packed our bags and are ready to head out into the Wind River Mountains tomorrow early in the morning. We will be in the woods for the next four days. I am eagerly anticipating going hiking with somebody! It has been years since the last time I hiked more than one night with another person.

I am looking forward to a mix of solitude and company. Things will be forgotten, stories will be written, and as always, we will feel a renewed sense of living when we return to the trailhead a little different from the way we left it.

Risk Management Revisited

This morning, I woke up in a tent in the Boundary waters. It was supposed to be the middle of the trip. Nope.

I have been struggling with an extended allergic reaction and since the effects were subsiding yesterday, I made the call to go to the BWCA as planned. I stand by my decision–the route out was fairly short, I would not be alone, and the symptoms were nearly gone.

However, this morning, my tongue and cheeks felt quite swollen. I am usually more concerned with my throat swelling up, but I was careful to notice even minute changes. Partway through breakfast, I noticed the swelling increasing slightly, but I couldn’t imagine that happening from bacon, eggs and potatoes. I continued eating, and the swelling increased.

Now that I look back at the incident, I see that I pushed my limits right to the edge. I got up to pack up camp in case I needed to make a fast exit. On my walk to the tent, I started wheezing. Shit. But freaking out won’t help anything, so I just looked for my epi pens to have close by. Logically, what else could I really do? I took a few deep breaths and was aware of how I was vividly enjoying the feeing of the oxygen and the cool air entering my lungs, as if my body knew it was possibly some of the last times that would be happening.

I put one epi-pen from my bag into my pocket, and I gave the other to my camping partner. That was the moment he realized how serious this was. That was the moment I realized the unspoken safety net of camping with a buddy.

While packing, the wheezing subsided, but we still decided to head out. That is a game of roulette I was not willing to play.

After a safe return to Duluth, I visited the doctor, and now have the things I need to stay alive. Yay modern medicine!

I want to leave with a couple important ideas–

1. Don’t get cocky. Although I never returned to an emergency state of breathing, I don’t regret leaving the BWCA for a minute. Staying would have been asking for trouble.
2. Don’t be afraid. I also don’t regret going to the BWCA. With the information that I had going in, I feel that I made a reasonable decision, and the circumstances that followed were not something that could have been predicted, but were managed.
3. Being calm probably saved my life. As a camp counselor, the only evac I had to perform was when a camper couldn’t breath during an Asthma attack. As soon as we were in the boat to bring him to a hospital, he calmed down and began to breath better. The ability to remain calm in crummy situations can have benefits in both mental stability and physical stability. Don’t ever underestimate the power of your brain to help take control of your situation. I feel confident that, had I panicked, the situation would have escalated, likely requiring me to use an epi pen, generally a much riskier situation. And that would have sucked.

If you do a lot of camping, you will deal with emergency situations. Having some basic first aid training is useful, but my experience is that being calm helps more than most people give it credit for. Don’t let fear of adverse situations scare you from attempting challenges. But remember number 1: don’t get cocky.

I write this because people always write about how awesome things are in their lives. Social media is full of the excellence of everybody, which is great–I love that we can celebrate these together.

But it is important to remember that sometimes people fuck up and sometimes things just randomly spin downhill. I think the most is learned from failures and accidents. Maybe you have had an experience like mine, but maybe not. Maybe you will, maybe you won’t. Maybe someday you will be in the woods and in the back of your mind, there will be a little voice reminding you to stay calm, slow down, and to think about your decisions carefully.

There was nothing fast about my departure from the woods. It still took around 4 hours before we were driving from the boat launch, and another hour before we were in any kind of cell service. I am sure we could have paddled out in much less time, but I decided the calm of a relaxed paddle out outweighed the speed of a panicked paddle. Number 3: don’t underestimate the power of your brain.

Luckily for me, I was still able to enjoy the beauty of the Boundary Waters on my way out. I was a little extra thankful for each dew-covered spiderweb and each view of the lake bottom through the clear waters of Brule Lake.

Full disclaimer: I have no current medical certification to back up anything that I have just said. Everything is based merely on my experiences and observations, and although I stand by them, I wouldn’t put any real weight on my observations unless you can also back them up with legitimate medical research. Be safe out there.

The Northern Harrier

As discovered Saturday afternoon that I don’t have many close friends from high school left in Duluth. I was killing time on Facebook. I try not to do that, because it is generally more fulfilling and more fun to go outside and do something, but there I was. I am a human too. Luckily, I have done a decent job of filling my facebook with things that might get me outside doing something. That’s how this weekend happened.

About 11am, I was scrolling, when a post starting in all caps flew by:

ATTENTION LAKE SUPERIOR SAILORS! CREW NEEDED! : Northern Harrier of the TBYC is seeking Crew for the 2019 International – Grand Marais, MN to Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada. Passport is needed. Race starts Sunday morning out of GM. Message me and I will connect you to skipper/owner.

I hate when people type in caps lock, but I think this is probably a reasonable situation. In addition to the megaphone announcement, the post was accompanied by this picture:

That looks sweet. I could sail to Canada on that boat. I don’t know the guy who posted the announcement, I don’t know the captain of the boat, but I do know a couple people who sailed on this boat last year for this race. They said it is intense, but you will learn a lot. Hmm. Could be a cool experience, but I haven’t even been on a boat this year with the exception of 20-30 minutes on a leaking 14′ Hobie Cat. That’s a bit different from a J41 racing yacht. I left him a short pm about my interest, but also my lack of experience this summer. Then I continued scrolling.

Later that afternoon, I was gardening with my mom. If you haven’t done this recently, and have the opportunity to, I highly recommend this. It’s a great way to put your head back on straight. She likes it too. This is where I was when I got the call from the guy on Facebook. By this time, about 5:30, I had more or less written off my chances of going sailing. If they were that strapped for crew, they would get back to me quicker that this.

However, he called. I talked to my new friend on the phone and after a longer-than-expected conversation with a real chatty guy, I was set to meet him at 6:30am the next morning to drive to the start line at Grand Marais. We continued to text a couple times to figure out when the start was and when the skipper wanted us to be at the dock.

Sunday morning, we actually left on time with all our stuff. Win!

We found the boat in Grand Marais, and introduced ourselves to the captain, and then went to town for some breakfast. Once back at the boat, the rest of the crew had arrived, and we met the people we were to be sailing into the night with. A couple of last minute preparations were made, including sending me up the mast to pre-feed the topping lift into the internal mast pulley.

I was hoisted up the mast on a chair that is clipped into a halyard. I was literally pulled up like a sail.

At 11, we crossed the start line. Keep in mind, I have not sailed on a boat of this size since last October, and even then, I basically had one role, which was already occupied by a regular member of the crew on this boat. The first couple hours were a royal struggle.

I was trying to remember all the words that sailors use. Genoa, jib, and foresail all refer to the sail in the front of the boat. Unless you replace it with the spinnaker, which is a different type of sail. Ropes are not call ropes on a boat. There are sheets, halyards, guys (or guy-lines), and the topping-lift. All of these words refer to specific functions of the different ropes. To call any of them a rope is to call yourself a rookie. I did it a couple times. Oh well.

Tensions rose a couple times, but overall, there was much less yelling on the boat than I expected. I did learn a lot, and we sailed fast when there was wind. Also, we were always watched by the angry pumpkin. The spinnaker on the Northern Harrier is a giant jack-o-lantern. I love it. There are not many people in the world who will spend thousands of dollars on a sail and give it a goofy design, but the Harrier pulls it off.

The Angry Pumpkin.

In the middle of the night, about half of the crew went below deck to get out of the cool wind and sleep. Since we were carrying a straight course, there were relatively few things to do on deck. We were able to sail with just four people.

This was the most beautiful time. There was a strong north wind which carried us quickly up the north shore of Lake Superior through the night. We passed a couple of other boats like they were sitting still. We were heeling over at times so that the starboard deck was just inches from the water. It had been calm during the day, so there were almost no waves built up: fast smooth sailing.

We arrived at the finish in Thunder Bay about an hour before the sun rose. It was starting to get light out, and we finished the race with my first ever tack as a trimmer. Trimmers can easily make or break a tack, and I nailed it! One of a few shining successes for me. I was very excited about that! After about 18 hours of boat racing, we drove back to the skippers house and slept on his couch for about 4 hours. We got a shower, some food, and a ride back to Grand Marais.

It is interesting how, as we rolled into Grand Marais 27 hours later, it seemed different. We had just spend the night on the Gitche Gummee, and the visitors walking around the shoreline in Grand Marais had no idea. Sailing through the night on Lake Superior is not something you can understand by describing it. There are so many parts that don’t fit into language. As much as I can write about the building wind through the night, the excitement of seeing some ripples on the water in the late hot afternoon, the struggle of jibing a spinnaker with two rookies on the foredeck, I will always miss something, like the hilarity of Spicy Jim waking up to check the heading, and going back to sleep after looking at the depth-finder, or the joy I experienced when the Jube Jube candies were brought up. I had never even heard of this candy. Must be a Canadian thing.

Road and sea weary, I got home and shared stories and pictures over supper, trying to help my parents to understand this experience I just had. It’s crazy to think, I didn’t even know that the race was happening until almost exactly 24 hours before the start, I hadn’t committed to sailing until about 16 hours before the start, and then I went to sleep, packed and had a 3 hour drive to get to the start.

Now all I can think about is sailing.

Competitors disappearing behind us in the glassy windless waters.
It’s a relief to see wind in your sails when the water is so calm.
Sunset on the North Shore.