Past 7 Days

I recently re-read an old post The Rapture of Being Alive and decided to capture moments of rapture from the past week. For me, experiences of rapture are more than just feel-good moments – they are experiences that open us up, they invite vulnerability, and they make us more freely available to others.

From the past 7 days…

I felt it with Michelle yesterday, as we got deep into conversation about kids and sports and cell phones and growing up.

I felt it Thursday on the Boulder Skyline Traverse hiking with Bart Foster and 40 other amazing business leaders / outdoor adventurists.

I felt it when I texted Dad about the Chaos Walking movie.

I felt it last weekend when Joe and Jack and I were climbing in Boulder Canyon.

I felt it with Quinn at the coffee shop this week, talking about the photography on the walls.

I felt it with Luca this morning, hiking up to the Royal Arch in Boulder, discussing career and friendship and spooky tales of haunted houses.

I felt it last week at lunch with the CFO/COO of the Colorado Mountain Club. Jacob shared some inspiring mountaineering stories, interspersed with business challenges they’re tackling at CMC.

I even felt it playing fetch with the dog, and tug-of-war with a rag.

These are older than 7 days…

I feel it on every exec hike with Geoff.

I feel it every time the Zen Mustache crew takes the stage for a performance. And any time we get together to play music, even if it’s just in the garage.

I felt it riding my bike on paths through the nature preserves south of Chicago.

I felt it camping by myself in the back of the truck, listening to insects chirping and the wind in the forest.

I felt it visiting the Field of Dreams in Iowa.

I felt it laying flooring at my parent’s house, crawling around on my knees, moving appliances, and listening to country music.

Looking at the list above, trying to extract what’s in common. It’s not about the specific activity. Seems that rapture comes from two places:

  • It’s about who I’m with and the openness of that relationship, or:
  • It’s about being open to the moment at hand and immersing completely in the experience – not worried about other things – so the focus is completely present.

Those are moments of rapture, and it turns out they are everywhere.

Burnout

My son, a college sophomore who is deeply entrenched in STEM classes this semester, called last week feeling overwhelmed. He had just finished the first part of a two-part physics exam, and felt crappy because he’d left 2 out of 4 questions completely blank, and wasn’t confident on the two he did answer. The second half was coming tomorrow, and he had so much studying to do; he just wasn’t getting the concepts. But he also had calculus homework due the next day (mostly completed over the weekend, but needed to be finished off), a computer science assignment due the following day, and some drawings for his technical drawing class. That was all just in the next two days. Plus his hourly work at the events center, practicing his music for weekly lessons, and his climbing team commitments. Somehow this was only week 4 of the semester. He was asking me, rhetorically, how he would ever be able to keep up?

Here was a perfect moment to lay on the wisdom, to bring my years of life experience into focus. Surely I could craft some insightful advice that would help my son in his moment of despair.

“That’s so hard. I’m so sorry you have to deal with this.”

That was basically the gist of my message. Yep, the editors of Parenting Magazine will be calling me any day now.

My son mentioned during our conversation that he wanted to find the right work life balance. That he had seen me working so hard and being terribly unhappy (prior to me finally making a peaceful transition out of my start-up company), and he knew he didn’t want that for himself. But he did want to work hard enough to feel good about his work, and he did want to build a responsible life for himself.

At one point during the conversation I told him something along the lines, “College is a different season of life than anything else you’ll have when you’re in the work force. College isn’t about work-life balance, it’s about work-work balance.” He laughed and said, Yeah it’s not about whether or not to get it done, it’s only about when and how to squeeze it all in, and with what level of effort.

This HBR article reinforces something many of us have already instilled in our lives: making time to recharge. It’s more than unplugging, or breaking the routine. Both the body and the brain need recovery time. Not just rest, but recovery. I’ve been out of the workforce for a little over two months, and I’m just beginning to feel recovered.

Reading this article makes me think it’s not about work-life balance, it’s about engaging in work that is meaningful to ourselves, and then doing things that truly recharge. In that model, we don’t really have an opportunity to burn out.

https://hbr.org/2016/06/resilience-is-about-how-you-recharge-not-how-you-endure?utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=hbr&utm_source=LinkedIn&tpcc=orgsocial_edit

A Parent’s Gift

“To trust who our child is, and not who we think he should be or what the world wants him to be – that perhaps is the single greatest gift a parent can give. Faith in our child’s destiny, in the destiny of her soul – that’s the one ingredient that will make the biggest difference in our parenting.”

– Elizabeth Lesser, Broken Open

Colorado Trail Segment 2

I’ve been scoping out the Colorado Trail for many months with the idea of hiking & biking one segment at a time. This week I took my first steps toward completing the 486-mile CT as I tackled Segment 2. Now I know you’re asking, “What about Segment 1?” I chose to start with Segment 2 because among the segments nearest to Boulder, it’s the shortest (12 miles each way) with the least elevation gain (2,500 feet). It was a place to test myself and rediscover how well I function on bigger day-long outings. It’s been at least 7 years since I tried anything like this distance/elevation and I wasn’t sure what to expect from my body, which is not getting younger. Thankfully, all my parts held together. I took breaks, brought plenty of calories to maintain energy, and slowed down my pace to take pleasure in the experience. I was very tired by the end but I loved the whole thing: following an amazing trail through incredible changing scenery.

I started early, leaving Boulder at 5am and driving my truck to the other end of the trail (my turnaround point) arriving at dawn, with just enough light to find a hiding place in the woods to secure my mountain bike. With the bike stashed, I jumped back in the truck and navigated the dirt roads that took me to the start of Segment 2, located near the confluence of North and South forks of the South Platte River. I began hiking a little after 7am.

Conditions were HOT, above 90 degrees from 11am onward. I brought over 140 ounces of water (36 oz in a Nalgene bottle stashed with my bike at the turnaround point, so I didn’t have to carry all the water all the way). By day’s end I drank all but about 16 oz.

Large granite outcrop. It extend for about 1/3 mile. The trail curved to the right and traversed the top of the outcrop.

I don’t know if it was the time of year or that I was out there on a Wednesday but I saw virtually no one on the trail all day. In one sense it was invigorating to feel so alone and remote, but I was also found the experience startlingly eerie. Maybe I just need to get reacquainted with being alone in the wilderness. I saw one couple on their bikes at mile 8; one woman on her bike at my turn-around point at the Little Scraggy trailhead; and that was it for 5 hours hiking and 2 hours biking. At the very end, when I got back to my start point, I saw about a half dozen hikers in two separate parties who were just getting started on Segment 2. I believe trail magic is a real thing, but it requires other people and was not available this particular day.

This formation is called Chair Rocks. I had the views all to myself.
Stats
Sept 7, 2022East-to-West (hike)West-to-East (bike)
Distance11.7 miles11.7 miles
Elevation Gain2,564 feet806 feet
Moving Time4:382:05
Total Time5:052:14
Stats: CT Segment 2 — South Platte River Trailhead to Little Scraggy Trailhead
My field notes
Fire and Scars

In May 1996 a human-induced fire burned nearly 12,000 acres of the Pike National Forest, including most of the western half of Segment 2. The fire torched a campground that had been located here, and it dramatically changed the character of the landscape. Once a walk through a pleasant pine forest, today large sections of Segment 2 have expansive views, but no shade. Now 26 years later the forest still has a long way to go. These areas are revegetating with small grasses and plants, and I did see some new young pine trees in lower-lying places. I’m not a forester, but my guess is it’ll be at least another century before this place begins to feel like a forest again.

Burn scars remain from the fire 26 years ago.
What I Liked Best About Segment 2

Quartz Stones. One section of the trail passes an old quartz mine. Parts of the trail was littered with pink and white stones. Totally unexpected and beautiful.

This was a neat spot for a breather
Pretty
What I Liked Best: Close Runner-Up

Judy Gaskill Bridge. Segment 2 starts by crossing the south fork of the South Platte River. The bridge is a steel truss pedestrian bridge. Super cool. When I finally returned to my starting point, I enjoyed hanging out beneath the bridge splashing cold river water over face, neck, arms and legs. I felt mighty positive vibes emanating from this bridge.

Now that’s a way-cool bridge!
What I Liked Least About Segment 2

The trail itself is nearly 100% single-track, which sounds awesome for biking except the trail quality is very sandy and loose. Fine for hiking but more treacherous for biking. Even though most of the biking was downhill, it was not often comfortable because I was usually sliding in the loose dirt.

Loose trail. Sun coming up through the trees!
Biggest Learnings

Bring moleskin! Having this in my pack saved the day (or at least, saved my heel from a painful blister).

Slow down! Giving myself permission to take breaks, even on the bike ride, made a huge difference in the quality of my experience.

So, will I attempt another segment?

The romantic side of me says, Heck Yeah! That was amazing. The pragmatic side says, Heck No! That completely worked me. Between the heat, the distance, and the elevation, I’ll need at least a week to recover before attempting another segment. (wink)

Looking downhill toward the river
Blueberries! (I wasn’t brave enough to try them.)
Pink quartz
An old and abandoned quarry for pink quartz
Loads of this quartz are all along the eastern section of Segment 2
End of the bike ride. Glorious cool river water beneath the Judy Gaskill pedestrian bridge.
Colorado Trail Marker
No idea what these signs were warning me about.
Crossed these roads around mile 6 of the hike, but the roads are closed to nearly all vehicles.
(The signs look nice though.)
Chair Rocks. No real views of this cool rock formation except from the CT.
This was the approach to a neat rock outcrop. The tree center-left in the image protects a 4-ft wide gap between two giant boulders, and through the gap are great views of Chair Rocks.
Burned trees
This whole landscape was denuded after the 1996 fire.
More leftovers from the fire
Loose trail, but nice to see some green pines in the lower section of that valley.
My turn-around point. Little Scraggy marks the end of Segment 2 and the start of Segment 3.

Peach Pie for Breakfast

I am learning I’m much happier when I stop trying to optimize; stop trying make each moment the best it can be, and instead pay attention to what is already here. This morning I’m in a parking lot east of Des Moines after refueling the truck. Eating half of a peach pie as my breakfast (people eat danishes, I can eat a peach pie) with the early morning sun warming my cheek and the buzzing noises of the interstate as the soundscape. Nothing too special, yet it’s a privilege to experience each of these. Being alive and aware and appreciating it. That’s all there is to it.

Following the Flow

After meeting with Geoff on Friday I started to realize what I’m doing, or attempting to do, may feel foreign to a lot of people. And Geoff talks regularly with Phil about spiritual / mindfulness stuff. But clearly they had never spoken of the Surrender Experiment. Nonetheless my own life is moving to the beat of a drum and while I hear the beat I don’t quite know the song; but I know I should dance along. So I am choosing to let go, at least for now, and maybe (hopefully?) for a good long time. Let go of my own personal preferences of what’s right or wrong for my life, and instead lean into the unknown mystery. Call it God, Spirit, Universe, or whatever, there are forces at work that are bigger than me. When I slow down, and quiet my mind, and listen, and pay attention, I can feel a tug. There is a flow, like a river, and I can move along with the current or resist. When I resist, things seems hard. When I let go and turn in the direction of the current, even big obstacles feel easy to navigate. It’s as if the Universe is helping me get to where it needs me to be, if only I will let it.

My work in the corporate world may not be finished (but it might be), but whatever is coming next will certainly have a different face than before. I’m excited to discover it, and I believe it will reveal itself at the right time. Oddly, I have deep faith in that truth: that my purpose and work will reveal itself in its own time, and exactly the right time. My part to play right now, is to prepare. That means talking to people, hearing their stories of change and transition. Becoming clear about my strengths and the learnings from my own life experiences.

There’s a great line from Glenn Close in The Natural. Toward the end of the film Close’s character says something to the effect, “I believe we have two lives. The life we learn with, and the life we live with after that.”

I believe I’m transitioning from one to the other.

This may take weeks or months. At the moment, I’m expecting to not have full time work for at least 6-12 months. I may find part time work to fill in the gaps and keep things together financially. I’ve applied to a volunteer program building trails in Patagonia. That program would be from late Feb through early April. Between now and then I’ll be working on my program for myself. Is that building a network? Building a business? Working as a consultant part time? All to be determined.

For now, my job is to not lose my pulse on the flow.

Geoff is an amazing friend. He is completely supportive and he’s as curious as me to see where this will go. But it was not what he was expecting me to say — that I was surrendering my life for a while, letting go to see where the river current is going. I’ll do this one day at a time. Through journaling. Through mediation and prayer. Through conversations with as many people as I can. I’ll keep tuning in to that gentle tug, beckoning me in a direction and a destination that I can’t quite see yet.

Anxiety Popsicle

Feels as though there is a core of bound up stress running from my abdomen to the bottom of my throat. Like a frozen popsicle of anxiety that I’ve carried around for years, and was never aware.

This past week my sleep has been good – above average for sure in terms of quantity and quality of sleep – yet every morning I wake up feeling listless and unrested.

I have noticed, however, that each day is slightly better. Today I woke at about 5:30 and while I didn’t feel rested, I did feel relaxed. My mind wasn’t immediately spinning off into everything that needed to get done today.

Hopefully, it’s a sign the popsicle is beginning to thaw.

On the Off Ramp

Hey future Johnny. Today is the first day after being dismissed (amicably and with great references) from my job as COO of the startup company Nextbite. I don’t know what the world looks like from your perspective there in the future, but today feels pretty uncomfortable, because I don’t really have a clue what’s next for me.

My mind today is full of advice and support from lots of people: Take some time off. Don’t jump into a new gig right away. You can’t figure out the next thing while you’re still doing the current thing. In my case, it’s not just this latest job that I’m leaving. I feel I need to step away from the whole executive/leadership/management job profile – at least for a while – and look at a whole new way of living life.

That sounds great and a lot of people are excited for me, but honestly right now I find myself making lists of things to do, things to keep myself busy. Because that’s easier than figuring things out. For all the pros and cons of having a job, one thing it does is provide structure to the day. And without that structure a piece of me wants to keep super busy just to avoid feeling panicky.

Maybe that’s natural. Maybe there needs to be some time for the off ramp, time to actually slow down. After all, I’m not going to shift into another mindset and operating framework in one day.

First Transition Point

I got a first look at one of the transition points for the Colorado Trail Segment project. This is where the first segment comes out of the forest and crosses a dirt road to create a trailhead.

End of Segment 1. Feb 20, 2022

Platte River Road north of Deckers and east of Buffalo Creek is a dirt road that spectacularly follows the South Platte River. Fly fisherman can be seen standing in the water in their gaiters every hundred yards for miles. Despite being less than 2 hours from home this was my first time in this part of the state. The area is a gorgeous respite from crazy busy life with towering boulders sitting silent like giant’s play toys strewn haphazardly along the peaceful flowing river.

The second segment starts by crossing a footbridge over the South Platte river then heading left (south).

Quinn and Cricket on the near side of the foot bridge. The trail crosses the South Platte River then continues left (south) along the river.

The entire area is in Pike National Forest so camping is allowed (just not near the water). However, for this leg I learned during my scouting trip / mud run that I cannot leave my vehicle parked overnight back at the initial trailhead. Signs everywhere assured my truck will get towed. So for this first leg, it feels very much like I’ll need to do a same day out-and-back. What that probably looks like in terms of logistics:

Day 0 afternoon. Drive to the trailhead shown above, stash my mountain bike, a fresh bladder of water and some food in the forest. Then either find a campsite (there are several along the river, or find a flat spot in the forest) or drive back to Boulder to sleep.

Day 1. Break camp and head to the Segment 1 trailhead. Early start. 16 mile hike to my bike. Rest. Then bike 16 miles back to the truck. Drive home.

Elevation gain (hiking east-to-west): 2,830 ft

Elevation gain (biking west-to-east): 2,239 ft

The good news is there is a lot of downhill back to the truck on an easy well-groomed dirt road. It will nonetheless be a big physical day, and I’m not currently in shape for such a day, at least not yet. I need to figure out how much time it’ll take to hike 16 miles then bike back – how early do I need to start. Then there’s the food and water I’ll need. I also need to locate and study a topo map. I face a decision whether to get new boots (current pair is a year old and should be broken in but continues to cause blisters) or any other gear.

Prepping and training for Leg 1 will be a great initiation for this project!

The trailhead between segments 1 and 2 has a vault toilet and parking space for 20-25 cars.
Information sign at this trailhead.
It was a warm blue-sky day in February and we saw a few hikers enter or exit the trail. Since I also want to ride my bike, I’ll wait until it melts. There’s a CT marker on a tree.

The Continental Divide Trail

In my weekly research I discovered the Continental Divide Trail and the Continental Divide Trail Coalition. Maybe 10 or 15 years ago I had heard rumors but had lost track, and it’s so exciting to see a continuous trail through the Rockies from Canada to Mexico!

Complete blazing of the trail was completed only recently in 2018! This is truly a brand-new trail, and it’s being viewed among big hiking circles as one of the big three, known collectively as the Triple Crown:

Appalachian Trail (AT) – 2,200 miles from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine and travels through 14 states.

Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) – 2,650 miles from Campo, CA on the Mexican border to British Columbia through the states of California, Oregon and Washington.

Continental Divide Trail (CDT) – 3,028 miles from the border with Chihuahua, Mexico to the border with Alberta, Canada through the states of New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho and Montana.

The AT is the oldest and most traveled. Almost 2 million people hike a portion of the trail every year and there is a real thing called Trail Magic which refers to unexpected acts of generosity along the trail.

The PCT is also a well established and well maintained trail but it has fewer visitors than the AT. Trail Magic exists but is much less common because there is less density of people.

The CDT is the newest of the Triple Crown and it was planned, built and is maintained by a network of volunteers. The trail itself is more remote (further from roads and towns) than the AT and PCT and the route itself can become confusing in places as it traverses a maze of roads and trail alternates. The CDT has the least visitors of the three and Trail Magic never really has a chance to surface.

I am not looking at the Continental Divide Trail as a replacement or alternative for my segment-at-a-time Colorado Trail project. It’s far more remote, both in distance from my home and the trail itself is further from roads, meaning it’s really designed for through-hiking.

However, I see in the maps that the two trails coincide for several miles through the state of Colorado. Maybe in the future I can hit other parts of the CDT in other states. For now I’m excited to learn that it’s there.

Mud Run

Yesterday I had a few unexpected free hours and wanted to do a trail run. We’ve recently had a 8-9″ of snow and I love the trails under snow, so I geared up for cold and wore my studded shoes (short machine screws drilled into the rubber soles with the screw heads providing excellent traction on snow/ice).

With a little extra time available, I decided to drive south of Denver to the trailhead for the Colorado Trail. I ran 3.1 miles up the trail then back for a total of 6.2 miles (10k distance). The trail here is not really trail but a packed dirt road, and despite recent snow storms by the time I got there the road was unfortunately not snow-packed. The sun had done its duty and melted everything, leaving nothing but mud.

What could I do? I ran with my studded shoes in the mud.

With studded shoes it was better to run in the squishy mud on the left than the drier hard pack on the right

What I learned today:

1. Be prepared for any conditions, especially psychologically! I was disappointed and even a bit frustrated for a while, but then realized how much fun I was having in the mud. Conditions will undoubtedly be different than expected, at least part of the time.

2. The studs on my winter running shoes, intended for snow & ice, work very well in squishy mud. I did not slip once!

3. I liked these sign posts. I wonder how long they exist? I’m sure it’s not the entire 486 miles of the Colorado Trail.

Nice mile markers. According to signs these were donated by the Boy Scouts.