Guacamole Mesa views mountain biking

Posturing Ain’t Pretty (and Other Desert Teachings)

Guacamole Mesa views mountain biking

The area around Hurricane, Utah is a tumultuous riot of steep, rolling rock, an outdoor playground. The expansive views and fine winter weather create a dream destination for desert lovers, including mountain bikers sick of snowy home trails.

In January 2020 P.C. (pre-COVID), I’d journeyed to the desert with my friends Paul and Eric in search of sunshine and temps over 35 degrees. I’d quickly figured out how to pronounce Hurricane – Hurr-UH-CUN – and so far the only trip negative was Paul’s penchant for hiding in surprising places and scaring the bejeebus out of me, an immaturity battle I quickly escalated. (Eric wisely steered clear of our asinine antics.)

However, I generally prefer my heart-palpitating moments on a mountain bike. (Earmuffs, mom.) To that end, we beat my bike rack to death on the rutted dirt road to Gooseberry Mesa, a fabulous piece of terrain overlooking the surrounding valleys. Astride our bikes, we pedaled the undulating terrain, a natural skatepark for bikes.

Gooseberry Mesa mountain biking

At the bottom of a particularly steep rock, three guys – clearly experienced, with all the cool gear – were “sessioning” or repeating (and failing) the same move. As I rode up, a break in the action presented itself, so I gave it some gas and clawed up it.

I stopped at the top and one of the trio yelled, “Hey, have you ridden this before?”

“Nope. I’m from Oregon.”

Long pause.

“What kind of tires you got?”
“Minion DHFs.”

“OHHHHH…”

Commence excuses. Justifications. Posturing. Typical tough guy BS reinforced starting in childhood. Anything to help these three guys feel ok that I, a root and dirt rider from the PNW, might waltz onto their terrain and ride something they couldn’t.

Rock climbs Guacamole Mesa mountain biking
Picture a rock move like this, but about 2x steeper, with a turn. So awesome.

Paul and I exchanged glances as the guys spouted excuses – one had tired legs, another was on a new bike, and of course one owned the wrong tires. It was like I’d grabbed their ego voodoo dolls as I pedaled by, then smashed them in my Magic DHF Tread.

Never mind that Minion DHFs are best known for loose, wet terrain, NOT for rocks. If I’d sported Teflon tires, these guys would have said I could slide my way up the rock.

We left their empty excuses behind us and vamoosed to the viewpoint. Enjoying lunch with a spectacular vista, we forgot the guys…until they rolled up again. Sigh.

Little Creek Mountain biking Utah
Endless vistas… (Little Creek Mountain’s Big Loop trail.)

One of them immediately blurted, “I rode it.” It wasn’t genuine pride: it was an ego looking for affirmation. I pictured a kid seeking a gold star.

In the inimitable fashion of posturing males (takes one to know one), the guys blathered on about their trip. Paul, who suffers no fools, pointedly walked away to enjoy the view and his PBJ in silence. I briefly hoped he’d turn around and scare the crap out of the guys, but social decorum prevailed.

Luckily, they left soon enough, echoes of excuses and pathetic tire tread marks the only proof of the brief interlude. Well, that and our laughter at their ridiculous comments. We adopted “If only I had a DHF” for any mistake for the rest of the trip, on the bike or off.

Even with the sour aftertaste, I love experiences like this for an opportunity to learn. Those three riders remind me to steer clear of a) excuses, especially to random strangers, and b) posturing versus letting performance speak for itself.

All a work in progress for me depending on the day. I’m not perfect and will slip up, so perhaps I need a frequent reminder of this 15-minute episode in the desert.

I’m hoping that tattooing ‘DHF’ on my forearm will suffice.

Gooseberry Mesa
Gooseberry Mesa viewpoint! Hope my parachute works…
Rock move Guacamole Mesa mountain biking
Eric playing around on Guacamole Mesa while Paul looks for the levitate button on his bike.
Guacamole Mesa mountain biking view
More Guacamole Mesa magic. Ahhh, the desert.
Little Creek Mountain biking Utah view
Paul searches for the paraglide button on his bike on Little Creek Mountain.

Sewer Trenches Versus Carpal Tunnel

The project! My brother provided me with an Official Construction Sweatshirt, though clearly what I needed was a haircut.

Most weeks of my life yield few concrete results. Phone calls and piano practice, emails and payroll approval, bike rides and socializing leave a scant real-world trace.

When the results of our work hours are digital detritus, carpal tunnel and bad posture, tackling physical projects is even more valuable!

Two weeks in October delivered on said physical labor. While helping my brother build a second dwelling on my parents’ property, I did the following:

  • Dug a deep 200’ sewer trench with a backhoe, plus lots of (cough too much) hand digging.
  • Laid sewer pipe in the trench (hopefully the closest I’ll get to WWI-style warfare).
  • Cut out downed tree branches after a windy ice storm.
  • Installed a door to keep skunks out of a barn utility room.
  • Scraped off kiln shelves for a pottery firing.
  • Ran electrical wiring for the building, sank 8’ grounding rods, and installed an electrical panel.
  • Put up siding, cut and installed trim, installed a heat pump, moved four pallets of hardwood flooring in a snowstorm.
  • Somehow convinced two city inspectors the above quality was good enough to sign off on. (No bribes were paid.)
WAY more fun than mountain biking!

That non-comprehensive list is off the top of my head. At each day’s end, I’d drag my exhausted ass up the stairs, practice piano for 12 minutes, call Chelsea to say goodnight, and faceplant into bed.

I don’t share this list to brag. (HA, some of you are probably pitying me!) Instead, looking back, I’m amazed by the sheer volume of tangible work we accomplished in two weeks.

Doing Real Stuff

Laying pipe in a muddy trench is certainly not on my bucket list. But you know what? Chunks of labor with physical results are SO satisfying. From building out our van to installing solar panels on our house to my recent efforts, I love a good project.

Our backyard garden remodel is a prime example of this. Rather than spinning out this spring with the quarantine in effect, Chelsea and I launched headlong into creating her dream garden.

Yegads did we labor, converting a fugly backyard lawn into planter boxes, paths, and ornamental plantings! Our reward: voluminous quantities of vegetables and a relaxing sanctuary for us. Totally worth it.

Hard work on my parents’ property felt even more transformative.

My 1870s miner father and brother as a snowstorm rolled in.

Short-Term Pain, Long-Term Gain

My efforts on the building will help my parents age in place. When my brother and his family move into the main house, my nieces and nephews can grow up with Grandma and Grandpa around. As a bonus, my brother receives childcare support and a beautiful property for the kids to rampage on. How can I not feel good about contributing my sweat (and occasional swear words) to that?

Sure, I missed a few bike rides and my piano playing suffered. Yeah, my body is tired. WHAT.EVER.

From changing out a light fixture to full-scale home construction, the sense of accomplishment and satisfying glow from a solid DIY project pays dividends far down the road. Rather than a sense of dread, I see it as an opportunity for well-rounded living and feeling capable.

While I don’t want to work nonstop on DIY house projects – this effort wore me out – the results fire me up and balance out my cushy life. Nothing like contrast to make me appreciate what I’ve got!

Even if contrast is provided by hours in a muddy sewer trench.

****

Pictures!

The reason I was scraping kiln shelves: My mom made these beautiful new planter pots for Chelsea’s indoor jungle.
My brother getting it done.
18 degrees, but finished the electrical!
Excavators: 128x more fun than a shovel!
Parting shot: In case you’ve always wondered what the inside of a sewer pipe looks like…

The Wonderful, Trying Adventure of Bike Touring

Ahhh, nature. Traffic, wildfire smoke, and 95 degrees.

What does adventure, a much-belabored word, even mean these days? Fools far crazier than Chelsea and I rode bikes across the country…in 1880. On wagon trails. Not breaking new ground here, Magellan!

Adventure is so relative. For some, it’s a visit to their ancestor’s land; others, a trip to Cabo; for new parents, the first hiking date in months; for my friend Graham, it’s scaling the world’s highest unclimbed peak (NOOOPE).

For me, it’s not about unexplored exterior terrain. (Antarctica is cold, dude.) It’s searching for unexplored regions in ourselves. What’s new, challenging, different?

After 10,000 miles of bike touring, further pedaling these days offers fewer teaching moments. But in 2014, we dove headlong into our first tour and learned so much about ourselves and each other.

The bike tour prompted major positive shifts in my relationship with Chelsea, upended my work-life balance for the better, and changed my outlook on engaging with difficult endeavors.

Halfway and about to cross the Mississippi River.

The Bike Trip Idea Germinates

Like many of our life pivots, the bike tour germinated from Chelsea’s explorative spirit. Previous short tours with friends whet her appetite and a three-day birthday bike trip from LA to San Diego beckoned a longer tour.

Four months into our van trip, my work was fully remote for the first time. Most importantly, we’d finally focused our energy on aligning with important core values of freedom and self-development, not chasing the all-mighty dollar as I’d done for five years.

The touring seed grew into a towering beanstalk idea of a bike tour across the U.S. I’d never biked and camped before. Neither of us had ridden more than three days in a row.

What the hell. Let’s do this!

(Cue planning and logistics. Driving from California to Idaho to park the van at our parent’s house. I’ll skip further boring details.)

(How we pictured bike touring…) Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier looking practically fake!

Ah, Memories

Pedaling from Idaho to Maine still generates rushes of nostalgia. With 2020’s vagaries nixing travel and canceling plans, I’m reminiscing since this week marks six years since we reached the Atlantic.

In no stretch of the imagination is bike touring easy. Luckily, like initial forays into love, hormone-addled fights and sulking disappear behind the sweet memories of holding hands and first kisses. Even chafed butts and boredom and headwinds and hunger and traffic and exhaustion fail to tarnish the experience of a first bike tour. The patina creates interest!

The more-common reality: Scorching heat and scenic hay bales in Montana.

This wasn’t our light-and-easy romantic European first date. Bike touring chiefly featured solitude, us and endless pedal strokes across America. Which, it turns out, is a big.fucking.place. I’d never drive across it: WAY too far.

Hundreds of hours to pedal away thoughts, consume endless quantities of food to fuel biking all day, swear at headwinds, feel intimidated by the distance remaining, then wake up surprised (and a little disappointed) in New York because the Atlantic Ocean lay a mere week away.

Soaring above New York in a 1946 Piper Cub seaplane with a generous local we met.

This is Different

Euphoria buoyed the first few days of pedaling. The rolling wheat fields of eastern Washington, moose chomping next to our favorite rails-to-trails route in N. Idaho. Purple sunsets and satisfied grins after a hard day’s pedaling. Maine or bust!

The heat closed like a vise on day three as we climbed over Thompson Pass into Montana, temps sizzling to 100 degrees. Nothing wipes an exuberant smile away like a frying brainpan.

Rolling hills of Nebraska. Soy and corn, corn and soy, wheeee.

If the adventure starts when things go wrong, how wrong do we hope things get without reeeeally wanting it? Tales of woe create the best stories, but do we wish for them?

Can we channel Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard when he quipped, “Let the adventure begin!” after his expedition’s only map blew out the airplane window above far-east Russia?

Our less-crazy trip still presented opportunities for feelings. Straight-up fear when a Nebraska thunderstorm spiked lightning as we raced for safety, my hand pushing on Chelsea’s back. Simple amazement pedaling up the gorgeous Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier. Disillusionment at the smell and terrible sounds coming from pig farms in Iowa.

bike touring soy
Variety, the spice of life! Or soy beans for miles.

Unlike the cocoon of a car, you can’t hide on a bicycle. If it’s hot, you sweat. Wildfire smoke chased us in Montana and freezing sleet pummeled us over a pass in Vermont.

The smells, the heat, the dust, the thirst. You can’t floor it to escape: a scant hour in a car requires a solid day of pushing pedals. You’re there, present. For better or worse.

Some people say, “Any day outside is better than a day in an office.” To those flippant philosophers, I counter with a 99-degree day in the endless cornfields outside Wahoo, Nebraska, big rigs blowing by.

I’d happily trade an air-conditioned workday to skip pedaling narrow highway shoulders! Clearly I need to keep meditating.

Downshifting trucks are the best white noise for camping.
Sleeping at truckstops makes scoring an opera house hotel in Iowa even sweeter! (I’m in the turret!)

Fun Versus Satisfaction

No parent I know says, “We expect raising kids to be 100% fun!” Similarly (and infinitely easier), no extended physical trip features entirely flat bike paths, grazing moose, and lemonade stands when you’re thirsty.

Instead, we step into the most satisfying journeys of our lives anticipating adversity’s onset.

For better or worse, crucible moments transform us. Fleeing lightning storms with Chelsea comprised but one trust-building moment. Her fears about my impatience and competitiveness tainting the trip evaporated and hard moments forced us closer.

Dealing with my business mid-bike tour also revealed operational weaknesses in need of fixing. Hard, fundamental shifts still paying us dividends.

Stuck between the hammer of hard moments and the anvil of life, I’ll accept a few of Thor’s blows to affix me to another human or temper personal shortcomings. Quitting enervating jobs, ditching vampire relationships, seizing scary-yet-exciting opportunities, pushing ourselves via hard physical trips – we earn our stripes via hard stuff.

I aspire to flip back through my life’s storybook and see the full gamut of experience. Not all eye-popping sunsets and coasting downhill; rain in my face and sweat in my eyes on the uphill side. Frustration. Sadness. Fear. All of it.

kancamagus pass
Freezing Vermont sleet, a narrow road shoulder, lots of traffic, and a big pass to climb. The hot soup and warm fire at our host’s house this evening never tasted better!

The Bittersweet End of a Journey

Looking back, beautiful landscapes and people’s incredible generosity eclipse the glaring bulb of solitude and hard work. A ride in a deathtrap seaplane over the changing fall colors of New York. Leading a phalanx of burly bikers at Sturgis Rally. A grinning Iowa couple’s hospitality and a huge spread of food for two ravenous cyclists.

Sturgis Rally bike touring
“Put an engine on that thing!” This photo from Sturgis Rally will forever be one of my favorites.

So many more… Tales of round-the-world touring from Barry and Elise in Vermont. Waiting out all-day thunderstorms with Chelsea in a Nebraska hotel and gobbling down vegan ice cream sandwiches until we were sick. The real magic of a trip (of life!) is crystallized by small moments.

A week from our trip’s terminus in Portland, Maine, we considered continuing south to Florida. Hard work and perspiration aside, the simplicity of a hard day of pedaling creates satisfaction and (slow) tangible progress, mile by mile, across the country.

Instead, after 4,020 miles and 82 days of biking, we dipped our front tires in the Atlantic Ocean, snapped the obligatory success photo, and shipped our bikes home. Future touring awaited us, but the first one remains special in my memory.

Our adventure featured euphoria, exhaustion, accomplishment. A mix of pain and pleasure, fear and joy, commitment to a journey, and to each other.

Was it difficult? Hell yeah it was. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

End of the road in Maine!
bike tour U.S. map
Our route. 4,000 miles and three months of pedaling.
columbia gorge storm

Dealing With Emotional Lightning Strikes

A moody day overlooking the Columbia Gorge.

When I get hit in the head, I morph from Calm Dakota into Dak the Destroyer, Wannabe Viking Marauder.

Take the time a college roommate (Chelsea’s brother) tagged me in the head with a rubber ball as I studied for an engineering test. RWWWARG. Dak the Destroyer grabbed my chunky TI-89 calculator and angrily launched it for a direct, ship-sinking missile hit.

I instantly regretted it…like I always do when my brain short-circuits, overloads my reasoning facilities and proceeds to impulsive action.

Of course, we don’t want to do this. Yelling at a friend, reacting strongly to a partner’s comment, creating a rift at work – ideally, we avoid these things like they’re thirsty 12-pound mosquitoes.

Training for Lightning Strikes

I love Brene Brown’s rule for these situations: if her face is hot from anger or shame, she doesn’t “text, talk or type.” No interactions while she’s flooded and the filters between brain and mouth are broken. (Oddly, she doesn’t mention chucking calculators.)

In electronics, capacitors are devices that soak up a spike in current when things go awry. Rather than melting wires and arcing all over the place, it’s an energy vacuum cleaner. SHVOOOO, dangerous energy sucked into safety.

I think of Brene’s “no texting, talking or typing” as a technique to load a personal capacitor. It allows us to absorb emotional lightning strikes, defuse intensity, and safely return to normal operation.

Whether we’re hammering a reply to an inane Facebook post (“I can’t even believe this?!”) or unloading on our partners before we fully process a situation, remember the capacitor buried deep inside us.

First, we safely store that energy until we can release it without burning ourselves – and others. Then (and only then) we air the hard conversations that are worth having.

But aim for mild shocks in those conversations, static electricity style. Not vicious lightning, the scorching, hateful kind. That we defuse, let it ping around in our personal capacitors before we release it on others.

The Good News: We Can Improve

I haven’t thrown a calculator for years, but I still make mistakes.
One (lame) excuse is that I worked construction in high school. Let’s just say that calm, calculating behavior is an uncommon approach to dealing with feelings on job sites… Swearing or destroying a wall? HELL YEAH.

Still, how we deal with personal lightning strikes isn’t the important thing. What matters is having some plan for when things go awry.

Here are a few things that build my personal capacitance as I soldier on, chipping away at old habits and reactionary ways:

1. Meditation

After five months straight of daily meditation (<–not-so-humble brag), I still can’t levitate for an hour or slow my heart rate to 10 bpm. However, I like the concept of non-attachment to thoughts – hey look, a thought, neato – without diving deep into it. (For great meditations, check out the app Insight Timer.)

2. Practice Tough Conversations:

As Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius said, “When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: the people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous and surly.”

You probably aren’t an emperor (or are you?!), but it’s powerful to recognize that people will do frustrating things. (Check out The Daily Stoic for an easy entree to Stoicism or the book Meditations by Marcus Aurelius.

3. Calm Role Models

Seek out quiet, powerful leaders who teach us to be better. For example, Yvon Chouinard’s book Let My People Go Surfing inspired my approach to business. For a comprehensive take on leadership, I also recommend The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene.

Personal Capacitors For The Win

Next time lightning strikes your romantic relationship, during a work meeting, via a tough friend conversation, or just someone on Facebook who you immediately want to throttle, pause for a second.

Silently repeat NO TEXT, TALK OR TYPE as your personal capacitor diffuses the lightning strike. Take a deep breath and let the red color drain from your face. Let reason return. THEN engage.

Just don’t hit me in the head. Because then all bets are off.

Creating A Productive and Balanced Life During This F’n Pandemic

Hello from our Bend Compound! Wherever you’re reading this – an apartment in Spain or NYC, a van in the woods, a house with bored kids tearing your walls down – I hope you’re thriving as much as possible given a worldwide pandemic.

A meme that struck home for me: “Introverts, put your book down and check on your extrovert friends. They’re not ok.” Some of my buddies must picture me, extreme extrovert that I am, straitjacketed and rocking in a corner.

Surprising both Chelsea and myself, I adapted quickly and am quite content. No straitjacket needed! (She’s still watching me daily for cracks to show though.)

Hard at work building the planter beds that Chelsea has always wanted.

A Quick Identity Pivot

Home-bound and content are NOT words that describe me. However, when I realized this pandemic was sticking around for the unforeseen future, it required a shift in my identity and priorities.

It took some effort to reorient. Thanks to a generous friend’s gift of a flight pass on United this year, I’d spun travel and adventure plans spanning the globe. Social time consumed large chunks of time and energy. Mountain biking season approached.

POOF. Just like that, all put on hold for who knows how long.

To ensure I possessed the stamina to weather this without cracking, I needed to make the most of this forced isolation. Banging my head against the wall and wishing for things to normalize wasn’t going to change much!

This quote from a Sarah Blondin meditation struck home:

When faced with great change, we must trust what comes budding forth. We must quickly release our grasp on the old and familiar in order to plant our new garden. Resisting change is futile. The longer we fight our current and therefore only reality, the longer we remain in limbo, trapped somewhere between the past and the future, far from the present.

I spun out a bit in March, then decided to focus on alive time vs dead time, seeking the positives in this upheaval. That mindset is working well for me to stay happy, productive and balanced during this pandemic. (Details at the end of this post about my approach.)

Oliver has finally accepted me into the family. It only took 15 years.

Let’s Just Say It: This Is Crazy

To say there’s stress in the air because of COVID-19 is an understatement. Helping our families be safe, canceling plans, sorting through business headaches, figuring out the precautions we need to take. It’s heavy.

At first, I found myself spiraling deep into NewsLand, gripping my computer as the stock market careened groundward trailing smoke and flaming 401(k)s. We’re not out of the woods yet (by any means), but the sense of chaos has lessened.

I find it darkly fascinating how fast the shift to a new normal happened. Initially I was overwhelmed with the enormity of state and country lockdowns. Now I wonder how reopening will go. Without a vaccine, when will I feel comfortable in a shiny metal tube hurtling through the sky with other people or sitting in a restaurant? 2022…maybe?

I’m swiveling my head like an owl to take in varied opinions about reopening. I understand (and support) that some people have zero options beyond reopening their small business to feed their family. Facing economic ruin, I’d do the same. Personal values (e.g. individual vs. collective outlook) play into it in a big way, so of course it’s nuanced, touchy ground.

There’s a line though. I find it difficult to identify with people holding signs saying I JUST WANT TO RACE (a motorcycle) or who must get their hair cut at a salon. Sacrificing personal leisure and vanity is the least we can do right now, so I’m surprised at the lack of stamina. Perhaps the philosopher Blaise Pascal was right when he said, “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”

Haircuts are overrated anyway.

I fear that reopening too quickly without listening to public health experts creates potential for COVID-19 to stick around. Will it become like school shootings, barely making the news unless there’s a huge NYC-style outbreak, collateral damage from “more important” needs like the economy?

The Stockdale Paradox comes to mind: You must maintain unwavering faith that you can and will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties, and at the same time, have the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.

As a small business owner, I’m lucky as helllll to be doing ok. I feel for those in the travel and restaurant industries – ouch. However, this crisis wields far-reaching potential effects, so who knows how this plays out. I started my business deep in the 2008 trough and rode the wave up, but every tsunami crashes at some point. Every smart investor I follow is writing UNCERTAIN TIMES over and over.

And yet Chelsea and I are the lucky, privileged ones. I’m immensely grateful to keep working remotely and merely curtail socializing, travel and big outdoor adventures. Whoop de doo, small, smalllll price to pay. To all those on the front lines – be it hospitals, grocery stores, food supply chain, sanitation – a bow of respect and solidarity. Thank you.

Finding the Silver Lining

On a more positive note, without any social engagements or travel, there’s a LOT of freed up time. Using the aforementioned concept of alive time, I decided to take advantage of this.

For me, that means building new skills and following my curiosity. For example, what can I add to my toolkit for future goals (such as an outdoor planning and navigation course I am currently taking) or just make me a more complete human (learning how to garden)?

We’re cueing off an astronaut who lived in isolation in space for a year: have a schedule. You know, beyond “Work. Freak out at the news. Eat. Sleep.” Ours isn’t a strict timetable though. More like guidelines.

To help accomplish that, Chelsea had the excellent idea for a list of healthy habits and fun/productive things to accomplish each day. We each have a list where we check off items, then wipe our slates clean in the morning.

I recommend doing this, both for the routine it creates and for instilling productivity in otherwise shapeless weeks (months!) that blend into one another. I don’t always get to everything. However, it’s motivating and a nice steering wheel to grab when I start spinning out reading bad news or dreaming about my business cratering into a smoking pit.

It’s not a static list – I occasionally add or subtract things – but core items stick around. My goal was to hit the physical, mental, creative and “gotta do it” tasks. Here are some of the things on my list that I find valuable.

Finding solitude and zero COVID on the fire roads west of Bend.

My Daily Healthy Habits Checklist

General

  • One Thing – choose ONE task to accomplish each day. This could be as simple as “place online food order” or “build one planter bed.” Whatever you want it to be!
  • Checking in with family and friends – Daily conversations with my family and friends. My goal is always to talk about anything BUT corona.
  • Helping with Chelsea’s list – given how much she handles, it’s the least I can do.

Mental/Creative

  • Meditation – I’m using the Insight Timer app. Ten minutes a day, sometimes guided, sometimes not.
  • Writing – I’m loving daily prompts for journaling, most recently from Wild Writing. I find it generates far more introspection than “here’s what I did today.”
  • Chess – after years away from it, I’ve rekindled my love affair with chess. Such an absorbing intellectual challenge.
  • Guitar – daily practice using the excellent, affordable site activemelody.com.
  • Reading – I’m feeling a strong pull toward the natural world and got absorbed in the books Braiding Sweetgrass and The Hidden Life of Trees. That and some far-reaching sci-fi!
  • Masterclass.com – Loving this! Classes taught by people at the top of their field. Here’s a few I’ve dug: chess (Garry Kasparov), negotiation (Chris Voss, FBI negotiator), cooking (Alice Waters, owner of Chez Panisse), writing (Niel Gaiman, Malcolm Gladwell). Oh, and Masterclass is offering a gift a membership for a friend right now. Such a great value.
  • Cook something– for two months, we haven’t eaten anything we didn’t cook ourselves! These seitan jackfruit ribs are deeeeelicious.

Physical

  • Ping pong – YES. I bought a ping pong machine that shoots balls at me. Best $140 I’ll spend all year, I bet. One friend who shall remain nameless got one so I wouldn’t crush him after all this COVID crap ends. (You’re going down, Scott.)
  • GarageFit: I miss hanging with my crew, but I’m keeping the workouts going. If a bit more irregularly…
  • Physical therapy: This seems like a good time to fix those niggling aches and pains, right? I tore a ligament in my ankle taking a rock climbing fall in March, so this is a daily thing for me. I still can’t run, but it’s coming around.
  • Outdoor exercise: Bike rides or just a quick walk with Chelsea. Instead of mountain biking from crowded trailheads, I’m exploring new rides on my gravel bike with forays on fire roads and pavement to check out new loops and terrain.
  • Stretching and foam rolling – I often pair this with watching Masterclass or do it during a work call.
  • House projects – like many people (even you mobile van lifers!), we are digging into home projects that travel and socializing took precedence over in the past. I may even emerge from this as a competent gardener (gasp).
I feel like we dug the planter bed hole a little deep! (Not pictured: top trim edge, for all you perfectionists.)

C’mon, Do I Really Need This?

I bet a few of you are shaking your heads and thinking, “Yegads, how Type A can one person get?” I’d be surprised if not. I fought it initially!

Then I came around to the satisfaction and momentum building that comes from check check checking my way through a day. I left lame crap like “check email” off it because, well, I’m going to do that.

This is for the things I might skip that serve to move my life forward and stimulate my desire to get out of bed for another day in COVIDLand. (Way less fun than Disneyland: “One person at a time on the Gravitron!”)

I urge you to give the daily healthy habits checklist a shot. The result of this list is that every day, I never run out of things to do. I’m never bored. I wish there were more hours every.single.day.

There is always more to learn and additional skills to pick up. (A few more on my list: Sewing, local plant and animal identification, master gardener training.) Instead of wallowing in the news or whiling away the time waiting for “real life,” this is proving to be a productive, fun and creative period.

What positive things have you added to your life or how are you staying sane during this insane time?

And someday, Martin and I will get back to Smith Rock!

Let’s Talk About Money: How To Build A Strong Financial Foundation

Me rolling large in Laos in 2005! ($10 = lots of these bills.) Yes, I’m wearing a (free) shirt that says COLLEGE.

“What should I do with my money?” is a common question people ask me. They’ve snagged their first solid job or want to wipe out debt from student loans or credit cards. They’re excited to take the next step, and also overwhelmed by the sheer amount of options. Building a financial foundation sounds intimidating.

I love to share what I’ve learned from years of reading about financial topics, plus experience with living below our means and saving/investing. Nothing complicated, just concrete, actionable advice that I wish I’d received early on.

Rather than constrain these thoughts to individual emails, I decided to condense the ideas into a blog post.

This kicks off a multi-part series about getting your financial life in order. Referencing my favorite sites and resources, we’ll travel from deep in debt to launching investing to FIRE (financial independence, retire early) and beyond.

Today, I’ll start with the basics for setting yourself up for financial security down the road. All you van lifers (perhaps) have a head start on this, but I promise there are takeaways in here for everyone.

Getting Your House in Order

When you’re beginning your money journey, you need to build your financial house. And house construction starts from the ground up, not with choosing paint colors or light fixtures. Don’t get distracted with the fancy stuff when you need a foundation, walls and a roof.

Before you even think about investing any money, this means automated finances, ingrained spending habits, a safety buffer, and tracking those dollars.

It doesn’t make sense to heat a home that doesn’t have a door or windows. Investing money before you deal with credit card debt or nail down spending habits is the same.damn.thing.

Just Starting Out: Building the Foundation

Before you can run, you have to walk…but first you’ve gotta crawl. Luckily, you can learn from my mistakes!

When I got my first real job, I made the mistake of thinking, “F YEAH, IT’S TIME TO INVEST.” I was pulling in a paycheck, but after a year of overseas travel, I had zero savings and plenty of student loans.

I was living on a college student’s budget, so I wasn’t spending each paycheck. What did I do with the extra? It sure didn’t look like building a foundation; more like installing a fancy home automation system!

DAY TRADING. I was all over the Motley Fool looking for hot stocks. For suuuure Beacon Energy was going from a penny to $1.50 and Intuitive Surgery was headed to the moon. I was going to be RICH.

Never mind that a) I knew nothing about investing b) there are companies who hire geniuses to profit off over-confident idiots like me and c) even the billionaires who hire those geniuses often don’t beat the market.

Talk about misguided. I wasn’t investing, I was gambling.

With some losses (Beacon went to zero) and lots of reading, I managed to course-correct . Looking back, I wish someone had told me to do the following before even CONSIDERING investing money:

Treat ANY credit card debt or student loans like an emergency

Paraphrasing the mega-popular financial blogger Mr. Money Mustache, debt isn’t something you work on. It’s a HUGE, FLAMING EMERGENCY. For almost everyone, pay off credit cards and student loans before you invest anything!

Use the debt snowball approach: aggressively pay down the highest interest rate credit card, then attack the other with those funds. Here’s another approach.

Automate your finances

Humans are amazing at increasing spending as their income increases. “HOLY BANANAS, I’M RICH!” screams our inner child after a raise.

When you get a raise, celebrate by doing something fun. Then get back to basics. Instead of spending all your hard-earned cash, set up a system for managing your money that saves money before you even have a chance to spend it. This blog series on automating your finances is da bomb.

Rather than (more) new shoes and (another) expensive dinner since you can “afford them,” put your money on auto-pilot. Each paycheck, allocate a percentage to bills, savings, investing, an emergency fund (see below) and specific funds like wedding/house down payment/travel.

Why? If the money never hits your checking account, you’ll never miss it. This is a Super Money Hack, especially as your income increases. Keep living low to the ground and spending in line with your hierarchy of values and the savings will stack up.

Cut Your Spending Where It Matters

The financial wizards at Choose FI have The 10 Pillars of FI for gaining control of the big expenses in your life.

Lower your housing costs. Do you HAVE to live in an expensive coastal city, or does it just sound cool? Forget that – do some geo-hacking! You don’t have to live in the Philippines as a digital nomad either. Boise is an affordable city with amazing outdoor access and there are other fantastic cities that cost far less than places like San Francisco, Seattle or New York.

Even here in Bend (by no means cheap), there are two bedroom apartments for ~$1,000 and house prices that Californians and Seattlites drool over. (Note: I’m aware of the very-real affordable housing crisis, but the impacts of people moving from expensive to relatively affordable locations and driving up prices is outside the scope of this post.)

At the very least, be open to either roommates or a small, affordable space until your money is dialed. However, don’t skimp on location if it means you’ll be driving a ton versus walking or biking. We lived in a 550sf studio apartment (the “itty bitty!”) right in the heart of SE Portland for a year and it was awesome.

Bike whenever possible. aka Get Rich With…Bikes. There’s a reason the IRS reimbursement rate for travel is over $.50/mile – cars are expensive! I’m no car hater and totally get their utility. (I’m driving one today to go mountain biking.) However, when biking or walking is an easy alternative, leave the car at home.

If you must drive, get a cost-effective used vehicle. Cars and their insurance/maintenance costs crush bank accounts faster than King Kong landing on Bank of America without a parachute.

Forget cable. Get Netflix, read books, start a social group, pick up a new hobby…do ANYthing but pay for an expensive cable bill.

Switch to cheaper cell phone service. From Republic Wireless to Google Fi, there are many discount resellers of Verizon, Sprint or T-Mobile.
Once your debt is gone, use credit card rewards to get cash back or travel rewards. Pay off the balance each month. If you can’t control your spending yet, ignore this item like it’s a radioactive T-rex!

Carefully consider the value you gain from eating out. Go to restaurants when you really want to, not because it’s convenient. For example, Chelsea has an important standing lunch date with a friend that is worth the cost. I’d rather cook at home because it’s healthier, (usually) tastier, and cheaper. Plus my fledgling chef skills still need work…

Negotiate! Look at recurring expenses and ask “do I need this.” If the answer is no, see ya! Do you really need a shave club membership? Is the monthly subscription to a Game of Thrones costume box still serving you? If yes, ask “can I negotiate a better deal or change things up?” Phone call time!

For example, last week I called our internet provider and referenced a competitor’s intro deal. A five minute phone call yielded $11/mo in savings, PLUS they doubled our internet speed. I did a similar thing with my office lease.

Start an emergency fund once your debt is paid off

Whoa, all the value-based cost cutting worked and you paid off your debt? Now you get to stack some money.

Take what you were paying toward debt and roll that into savings. (Say you were spending $150/mo on credit cards. Immediately redirect that via your automated finances so that money goes to savings.)

Contribute to it until you get to 2-6 months expenses. (If you spend $3,000/mo, aim for $6-18k; put it in a money market account.) You’ll sleep better with a buffer and won’t have to tap into credit cards if your car transmission explodes or you lose your job.

Some people debate the need for an emergency fund. “That’s what credit cards are for.” I’d argue that until you feel totally in control of your spending, a cash pile is essential. The exact amount doesn’t matter, but having a buffer to handle big one-time costs is tremendously freeing.

Set up a financial tracking system for your money

If you don’t measure your money, you won’t control it. (I’d argue that you can’t.) I’m still surprised by how many people have ZERO clue how much they are spending.

That’s fine if you’re financially independent and can choose to stop working tomorrow. For everyone else, trust me – if you track your spending, it’ll help you save more. Notice I’m not saying create a budget. That comes later. Simply look at your spending each month!

I hear the retorts starting. “Too much time, I can’t possibly, you can’t tell me…” Whaaaaatever. You’ve got time!

Each month, I use Quicken to sync all our transactions and review our spending. This takes me less time than I spend texting my friends each day.

If you can’t invest that paltry amount in your personal finances, you’re not ready to get serious. The Home Shopping Network and the latest Danny Macaskill video can entertain you until then.

Resources:

I’ve used Quicken for almost two decades and love the ability to run varied reports. The Deluxe version is <$50/year. For simpler online tools, try Mint.com (free!) or YNAB (You Need a Budget).

Money Management is a Superpower

The magic of all these steps is that being debt free, automating your finances, having a buffer and knowing your spending habits is SUPER empowering. Celebrate because money is no longer your boss.

Now you’ll have cash in the bank in case of an emergency or if the economy tanks. Your credit cards are paying you with points or cash back rather than being a sinkhole of high-interest payments. You’re in control, and that’s a magnificent feeling.

Now what? Investing! Next time, we’ll talk about putting our hard-earned money to work for us instead of the owners of the fancy restaurant down the street.

Shutting Down the Noise – A Digital Minimalism Experiment

Devices pull at our time all day. They live in our pockets, tug at our thoughts, interrupt our conversations. We don’t naturally gravitate to digital minimalism.

Can our wimpy human brains beat the tech geniuses working to steal our attention? I say yes!

Traveling nine time zones ahead during our recent trip to Europe meant no emails, texts, or distractions until the evening. I found it so refreshing and calming that since returning home, I distanced myself from my phone’s siren song.

The goal: remove the temptation to look at my phone.

Rolling along dirt roads in pine forests near the border of Spain and Portugal!

Pruning the Noise Makers

On the plane ride home, I read Cal Newport’s new book, Digital Minimalism. He said exactly what I needed to hear about digital communication and social media: “What’s making us uncomfortable is this feeling of losing control—a feeling that instantiates itself in a dozen different ways each day.”

I easily ignore social media. I’m simply not drawn to it anymore. Thanks to bots and ads, the utility has decreased so much that checking Facebook or Instagram doesn’t even cross my mind.

Texting is a different beast. I’m a social guy with lots of people in my life: on any given day, I’ll text with 20+ different people. It’s an interruption cycle that’s hard to break because I didn’t want to leave people hanging.

Often texts turn into a conversation, not “meet here at this time.” According to my iPhone’s screen time tracker, some days that’s 1-2 hours of texting. (GAH. A part-time job!) It’s easy to control social media use by deleting apps from my phone, but TEXTING?

No. Way. It’s almost 2020: texting is like air. One-third of Americans and two-thirds of South Koreans would give up sex for a year vs. their phones!

A phone-free morning running the Enchantments!

What’s the Real Cost of a “Useful” Thing?

Texting has value and a function. It’s here to stay: I’m not deleting it from my life.

However, as Thoreau wrote in Walden, “The cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run.”

Well sheeeeeit, if you put it that way… Damn you, Thoreau and your wisdom!

After a trial period, I’m keeping a new personal phone policy with the overarching goal to remove the desire to check my phone. My approach:

  • Keep my phone on Do Not Disturb or in a drawer most of the day.
  • Use texting for planning and logistics, not conversation. “Meet at the climbing gym at 5:30” versus “Hey, how are you? Here’s what’s up here…” (This one is HARD and required flat-out telling my friends about my new approach.)
  • Continuing to keep social media apps off my phone and rarely using the services on my computer.
  • Using my computer for anything that requires research or extended typing. (Writing emails on a phone is so time consuming!)
  • In general, avoiding the itch to look things up on my phone or use it for anything except mapping, useful apps like Trailforks or Libby (library app), occasional texting, and phone calls.

The result is that I’m not constantly interrupted by text messages and am spending far less time on my phone.

If spending less time on your phone doesn’t make you happy, then I don’t look like a dork in this photo.

What About Losing Connection With People?

I worried this might insert a chasm between me and various friends. Luckily, Cal addresses this:

“Being less available over text has a way of paradoxically strengthening your relationship even while making you (slightly) less available to those you care about… I want to reassure you that it will instead strengthen the relationships you care most about.

Reading Digital Minimalism made me realize I sometimes misuse texting. Rather than concise logistics communications, I’d reach out to friends with updates about my life. If they didn’t respond in kind, I’d sometimes feel slighted.

However, if I was on the receiving end of things – long, one-sided information dumps – it often left me wishing we’d talked on the phone or met in-person instead.

My wise, hilarious friend Duncan showing me and Chelsea the secrets of matsutake mushroom hunting.

Our Brains Hate Texting

Paraphrasing the book, our intricate brain networks evolved over millions of years in environments where interactions were always rich, face-to-face encounters, and social groups were small and tribal. Short, text-based messages and approval clicks are orders of magnitude less information laden than what we have evolved to expect.

In other words, texting with your friends and commenting on their social feeds does little to strengthen our bond with them. We aren’t connecting when we text; we’re pretending.

No thanks. I’d rather have real, meaningful interactions. I’m willing to accept missing some events and having dead air between deep conversations. Who wants to learn about new babies and engagements via text or Facebook anyway?

GarageFit! Nothing like 14 degrees and a hard workout to feel connected, right fellas?

Decide What You’re Ok Missing

A line that spoke to me: “Minimalists don’t mind missing out on small things; what worries them much more is diminishing the large things they already know for sure make a good life good.”

Recently, I’ve focused on the activities and people I want to amplify in my life:

  • Undistracted time with Chelsea
  • Focused community building (GarageFit, men’s group, organizing friend hangouts)
  • Active physical time in the outdoors
  • Playing guitar
  • Reading and writing
  • Further streamlining my business operations
  • Fixing, installing, building and repairing stuff (bikes, house projects, van, helping friends).
  • Phone calls vs. texting whenever possible (even a four-minute call with a friend is surprisingly meaningful).

By choosing the things that create the most value, it reinforces my desire to keep my phone silent. A virtuous circle of tech minimalism!

Paul demonstrating nothing but focus while bouldering in Leavenworth.

Quick Results, But Still a Work in Progress

Short-term verdict: I’m loving it! I feel less distracted and present to both people and my thoughts. I’m connecting with friends in person or via phone calls. My brain is saying, “YES, this is real connection!”

Equally striking is realizing that few texts are time-sensitive. If people need you, they call! I haven’t missed anything of consequence by not looking at my phone.

Real Numbers

I quickly saw a sharp decrease in screen time and texting. My average daily phone use over the past week is just 40 minutes of screen time and 15 minutes of texting, FAR better than before. When I read a text now, it’s often hours later and it doesn’t turn into a conversation. A quick reply, done.

This ain’t perfection though. Noooo sir. Text conversations still happen. I get distracted, but I’m recalibrating and am confident I’ll only further improve.

Unless there’s a big hiccup, I plan on sticking with this method. The numbers don’t lie: a 5x reduction in my texting time in such a short time span is fabulous. Even better, I don’t have to fly to Europe to accomplish it!

How are you dealing with social media and digital communication saturation?

Enjoying no texts and the view at the top of Cutthroat Pass in the N. Cascades!

How to Make 2019 Awesome

Here’s my approach to creating a fulfilling, balanced, and adventurous new year. It’s a simple process that anchors me happily in the present with a lens forward and an appreciation for the past.

No resolution talk here. Zero discussions about fitness or reading a book a month are below. (The Daily Stoic Challenge or Atomic Habits can help you with those.)

Here’s the general idea:

  1. Map out the upcoming calendar year and fill in the big trips and bucket list goals first. The stuff for 2019’s highlights reel! Let’s call them Boulders of Awesomeness
  2. Add a few smaller ideas – the Stones of Excellence. Still fun, just not as committing for time/money/planning.
  3. Keep some flexible, close-to-home options for trips and day-to-day aspirations to pursue. Call these final items the Sand of Daily Happiness.

My favorite part about the Boulders of Awesomeness is that they anchor chunks of the year. Sometimes angst creeps in – “I haven’t done anything fun/exciting lately!” – and looking at the list helps me recenter. I can enjoy normal life without pangs of “time is running out!” hitting.

That leads to me relaxing and enjoying moments at home. I can look at my list and reminisce about recent fun and anticipate upcoming trips, experiences or projects.

Why Bother?

This technique avoids the “can’t commit to anything” thing that happens to me occasionally. Especially for people who are flexible (van life!) or self-employed, this method gives structure to the year without getting too rigid.

For example, here’s a screenshot from my 2018 list. Bolded entries happened and crossed off stuff is for later! From a Red Rocks climbing trip to Wilderness First Responder training to riding the Oregon Timber Trail to exploring Lake Tahoe, it was a heck of a fine year. I’m grateful it went so well.

The Detailed Process

It’s this easy:

  • Create a new document or Evernote file (my preference).
  • Flip through your bucket list and get stoked. These don’t need to be travel! One of mine for 2018 was “study blues guitar,” which I’ve focused on in December.
  • If you don’t have a formal bucket list, start one now! Think back on conversations you’ve had, Instagram posts you’ve seen, or online/magazine articles you’ve read (and maybe saved?) to jog your memory.
  • Since I have both a bucket list and my past year’s list, I go through each of them. What was fun/inspiring/awesome/fulfilling? I want more of that!
  • From those sources, pick 3-4 focuses, trips, or other ways to focus your energy (“cook more dinners at home” or “one date night per week” or “volunteer for __”). Use a different or bigger font for these.
  • Put them in the document you created and add potential dates. (Don’t use spring break for cooking at home if you’re going to travel to visit grandma!)
  • For weather-dependent trips or activities, line it up accordingly. While planning to ride the Oregon Timber Trail this year, I considered snow levels and forest fire trends and BAM, mid-July popped out. I don’t like to focus on January, when so many resolutions start out and then sputter along for a few weeks before fading. (Forget goals; this works better!)
  • Don’t be afraid to aim high! As Norman Peale said, “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” There’s no air in space, so maybe that’s bad advice, but I still like it.

Stones of Excellence: Filling in the Gaps

So there are the large chunks of time to take time off work or block out a time period to dial in or acquire a new skill.

But what about weekends that slip away because you haven’t planned something out?

Same process, just with smaller projects. For example, last fall I listed a 3-day avalanche class, a trip to the Steens Mountains east of Bend, the Cascade Lakes Relay, and a trip to the coast. Listing them got me thinking about logistics and soon prompted me to sign up for the avy class and Cascade Lakes Relay.

Seeing the list frequently helps keep fun weekend escapes or learning projects front and center. I keep it as a shortcut in my Evernote file, but you could print it out and add things just as easily

I think of this list as intentions to fill in the space around the Boulders of Awesome. These can be in support of the Boulders – train for cycle touring, learn First Aid, etc.

The Sands of Happiness: Making Daily Life Fulfilling and Rad

From there, I try to fill in remaining gaps between major trips and weekend excursions. Ya know, the 50% or more that are work days, normal blips that don’t ping loudly on Life’s Radar Screen. How do you make those special?

Intention! Write down those things that make for a quality, engaged, fun daily life. Here’s a few of mine from 2018: weekly date night with Chelsea, playing guitar, leading GarageFit workouts with friends, and a monthly game night.

These can transform into a resolution-like concept (“30 min of guitar per day”), but don’t have to. Revisiting intentions is a powerful way to reset priorities without feeling like you failed on a resolution.

Annnnd that’s it! Hope that helps turn up your Awesomeness Dial for 2019. Happy New Year, everyone!

P.S. I just launched a new weekly newsletter (<–check it out!), which is how most of you found this post. If you are subscribed via WordPress instead of Mailchimp, however, all you get is blog posts and none of the other goodies. If you want it ALL, subscribe below and all will be right. No spam, ever, just more fun!

Do You Want to Run a Business, Or Do You Just Hate Your Job?

One week to go at the engineering office!

Ten years ago, I left my safe engineering job and swam into the dark waters of self-employment. No steady paychecks, no health insurance, no 401(k) matching. Just me, a degree I owed money on, and adult anchors like a mortgage. I’d taken zero business classes and didn’t know a P&L statement from a TPS report.

Cooly, a steely-eyed Texas Gunfighter, I assessed my unique position based on my skills, what I enjoyed doing, and what the world needed. Success soon followed, along with a shiny Camaro.

YEAH. FREAKING. RIGHT.

Another day in the trenches of Office Space.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in 10 years of self-employment, it’s that nothing is easy, but the end result surrrre looks nice. Whenever I hear “you’re living the dream,” it always makes me think: do you want the uncertainty and headaches of building a business, all with no guarantee of success?

Along the way, I went from coveting the lifestyles of certain people in my life and in the media to realizing that, whoa, behind that curtain in Oz lies so much work, worry, and stress. Trade offs, always.

To dispel any notions of overnight riches, here is the real story of my journey. It’s full of doubt, mistakes, inch-by-inch progress and plenty of setbacks. YAY! I begin as a morose engineer and (eventually) claw uphill to a place where I run my own business and am lucky enough to have the time and money to choose how I spend my days…but first, shit gets real.

Choosing to spend my time in places like Glacier National Park!

The Unvarnished, Damn-That-Sucked-Sometimes Path

After college, I strap on a backpack and leave the country for the first time, exploring the world for a year. Small-town Idaho boy on the loose! (I live on savings from working multiple jobs through college.) I gain more self-reliance than during my four years of college, plus traveling is FAR more interesting than differential equations. Unfortunately, it doesn’t pay much…(Ok, anything.)

Along the way, I meet Chelsea in Prague and follow her to Portland. I get a full-time job as an engineer. Two months into the job, I’m miserable. Forlorn in my cubicle, I stare at my pictures of exploits in 35 countries. Two weeks off per year?! If I’m lucky, I only get 4,680 weeks in my entire life!

The entitled millennial in me wants freedom and money, RIGHT NOW. C’mon world, I’ve done nothing to earn it, but I want it. No, I deserve it.

First date with Chelsea! If I can do a handstand, there’s no way working full time is necessary.

I start reading books like The Four-Hour Work Week and blogs about self-employment. (My reading list from those days is a study in cracking a code: real estate investment, entrepreneurship, The Millionaire Next Door.) The gears start whirring. I’m working long hours and downing Subway sandwiches at my desk. Meanwhile, Chelsea is starting a real estate career. Supportive partner to the core, she says, “Hey, talk to James, the finance guy in my office.”

James advises me to keep my sweet, secure engineering job. I’m earning $55k/year right out of college, far more than I’ve ever made. It’s 2007 and the housing market is teetering and everyone in the industry can feel it.

Advice be damned! I get a lending license. I have zero finance training, but I want to become the Green Lender, the sustainability finance dude.

I’d totally trust this guy with my money! I mean c’mon, he’s got a green shirt, rides a fixed gear bike and has big hair. #trustworthy

Friends are my first marks; somehow, I don’t screw things up TOO badly. I do a deal here or there on the side for a year, focusing on my own personal projects on my computer’s second monitor. (Alt-Tabbers out there, let’s just say I was quick on the draw.)

The condo market in Portland peaks. We’re sage investors, so we buy a condo. “We’ll flip this and buy a house next year,” we tell ourselves, toasting our good fortune. The condo drops 40% in value. #realestategeniuses

Mid-2008, I leave my engineering job. Adjustable rate mortgages explode like time bombs, flak spraying the markets. Whatever – I’m SO stoked to quit.

The market crashes. There are approximately zero point zero clients buying homes. Whaaaat am I gonna doooo?

I’m no dummy, so I focus on core business development strategies: rock climbing and biking. For months, I avoid doing the work to get started, living on savings. Road trips to beautiful places STILL don’t pay much, it turns out…

Thinking deeply about business development in the City of Rocks.

Hard at work on my business plan with my friend Don on a ride around Crater Lake.

A Journey to the Dark Side of Business

A college roommate and I are both casting about for business ideas. We start a tech consulting business (neither of us are qualified). One of our favorite biz names includes “Techasaurus Rex.” (Sigh.)

We shutter T-Rex when my roommate finds a multi-level marketing (MLM) business called LocalAdLink, which aims to compete with Google AdWords. With a failed MLM in college, surely I’ve learned there is no such thing as easy money and that MLMs are shady and sharky.

I jump into the MLM full-force. Craigslist posts, recruiting, “ground-level opportunity…” All the bullshit. We make a few dollars, mostly from other people joining. (Rule #1 about most MLMs: the product is secondary. It’s all about recruiting people to sell the product for you, a pyramid paying people at the top. Gimme a P, gimme an O…PONZI SCHEME!)

After a month or so of this BS, my biz partner finds another, shinier “opportunity” called Lightyear Wireless. It’s another MLM. Chelsea, the far more intuitive one in our partnership, sees right through it. No way am I jumping into this one – c’mon Dakota. Dean’s list engineering student, world traveler… Common sense says that…

Headlong, I dive into recruiting for Lightyear. This one goes well; recruiting is easier, money to be made. Ground floor opportunity again, baby! (It’s always ground floor.) It’s a cold winter and I’m working in our uninsulated condo. Curled at my feet is an archaic cat Chelsea rescued from the street. Her name is Annie and she’s the sweetest, most decrepit kitty ever.

Annie spends the last days of her life asleep by the space heater, croaking out meows for a pat. Her waning moments parallel the sunsetting of my MLM days. I read a professor’s article about MLMs and email him. He confirms my theory that I’m not actually putting efforts into a real business. That small nudge is all it takes.

Me and old Annie hanging out. (Side note: No way I’ve ever had so many pics of me sitting in office chairs in one blog!)

The Only Way to Make Money is to Create Value

I realize there is no easy way to make money without hard work and that it is time to buckle down and create value. It’s a hard lesson, and I feel stupid and embarrassed. Why don’t they teach these lessons in school instead of trigonometry?! I’m also lucky to only waste a few months of my life on MLM scams. To anyone considering them, here’s my odious advice: move on immediately.

My timing is unreal. The housing market collapses and the government rescues big banks. Not to worry: all my old engineering colleagues are pulling down great money. None of them will lose their jobs in the teeth of the incoming recession. (“How’s the new biz, Dakota?”) Remind me why my dumbass Millennial, want-the-world-on-a-silver-platter self left a solid, respectable job with upward mobility?

I scattershot my approach in mid-2009: selling search engine optimization, hawking website design for a company, learning web design myself and building niche websites, joining a couple teams pitching grants in the sustainability marketing realm, and teaching a class on sustainability at a local college. (Funny enough, I’d forgotten ALL of these until going through Gmail for this blog!)

My shifting intentions force me to refocus and buckle down on my real estate finance business. I brainstorm ideas about green building and sustainability, reach out to build relationships, and finagle presentations to Realtors who are listing efficient, green homes. The federal government offers a first-time homebuyer tax credit to rekindle the swooning economy and people start buying homes again…but I still have zero clients.

I’m freaking out. My savings are dwindling and my meager stock investments are cratering. I’m a saver by nature and hate living without a safety net. That cubicle and monthly paycheck sound miiiiighty fine. Free lunches and a Christmas bonus? Sign me up. (I’m in The Dip, as Seth Godin calls it.)

I’m somewhere in the trough of sorrow/crash of ineptitude…

Changing Tides!

Momentum! Chelsea refers me some clients and I build relationships with Realtors. Two of them are a progressive team that sense opportunity with a review platform, Yelp. I’m intrigued (and desperate).

Referrals trickle in. I finally start making some money. Not a lot, and it feels unstable, shaky. Still, we’re frugal and it’s enough to cover my expenses. (Mostly because I’m not into the expensive sport of mountain biking yet.)

Ohhhh but I WILL be into this sport… (Photo: the talented Scott Rokis.)

So much trial and error. Does this marketing work? Can I offer classes about technology and a paper-free office and get referrals? (Yes.) Some business relationships blossom, others dead end, time wasted for no pay.

I’m learning the hard way that efficiency and effectiveness are different beasts. I can spend all day working efficiently on things that don’t deliver revenue! (“Maybe I’ll sort my contacts into groups and delete old archived emails.”)

I’m working hard, harder than I EVER did as an engineer, and the payoff is uncertain at best. Still, Yelp reviews are coming in and I’m seeing a glimmer of hope. (Essentialism is a great book that helped me focus on what mattered.)

Curveballs, Always Curveballs

I receive a job offer that is too good to refuse and become the Sustainable Finance Director for a local nonprofit. I’m tasked with developing relationships with organizations to push forward the green building market. Do I land my fledgling mortgage business? Hell. No. I double down and work harder.

Adding fuel to the fire, I commit to a budget of $200 per month to invite engaging, curious business professionals out to lunch or coffee. I build my network and meet dozens of driven people who are creating and contributing to what makes Portland a fantastic city. (The book Never Eat Alone is a significant influence on my approach.)

For 1.5 years (early 2010 to fall 2011), I’m pinning it, full throttle. Flights all over the country presenting on sustainable finance, meetings, work work work. My mind never rests, stress cascading off me in waves. I’m thinking about work from eyes open to head on the pillow. I lie awake at night thinking over difficult conversations, tactics, possibilities, risks. I’m so much fun to hang out with…

Kauai vacation (to elope!) in 2011. Not shown: me working half of my freeeeaking wedding trip.

It’s an exciting, exhausting, unsustainable pace. Only my morning bike commute, lunch runs and the climbing gym keep me sane. Chelsea is also working nutso hours on her business, so our time together is limited. Trail mix dinners over the kitchen counter, yum.

Breaking point. I have to choose. (Choose Yourself James Altucher says!) I leave the nonprofit and invest in my own business in fall of 2011.

Own or Be Owned by A Business

Positive reviews of my work on Yelp continue to drive new clients my way. My work is gaining steam and 2011/2012 are insanity. I’m pulled in 700 different directions. In no way do I own my business; it owns me.

Chelsea and I get married. Even though we don’t have kids and her business is booming, she leaves paid work, opting to support my fledgling business and focus on creating an awesome life for us . (Check out Radical Homemakers.)

We joke that she’s our Ambassador of Fun, but more accurate is that she’s consciously making our lives well-rounded and deep through community building, travel planning, and (eventually) a focus on veganism. To this day, it’s the best decision we’ve made to improve our quality of life, forge new paths and ways of thinking.

Chelsea brings the fun while I rethink cycling and ride two rental bikes in Arizona.

In many ways, we have it so, SO good. However, like a dam overloaded while cranking out electricity, the cracks are starting to show. I’m stressed and edgy. Is this effort worth it? We start dreaming about living smaller and dig into the tiny living movement. What if we live in a mother-in-law unit and rent out the main house? I could dial back my work and stop thinking about money all the time. Wait, wasn’t that the plan four years ago?

We take a roadtrip in fall of 2012 to “decompress.” I spend the entire time working and more stressed. (Where’s a wifi signal?! We’re losing reception!) It. Is. Miserable. We spy a Vanagon on that trip and almost buy it on a whim. Instead, we start researching camper vans. Four months later, we spring for a new Sprinter van. A new chapter opens.

Two contract employees I rely on are yanked out from under me. I’m terrified, but make the leap and hire my first full-time employees. (My guiding principles stem from the book Let My People Go Surfing by the founder of Patagonia.)

We’re in contract on a new house. WAIT. I realize I want to break free, to roam, to feel that footloose feeling of travel from my days in New Zealand, Russia, Laos…

An all-time travel moment: we switch boats on Inle Lake (Myanmar) and learn how to paddle like the locals.

Hanging off the back of a tuktuk in Laos in 2006 with my buddy Eric!

The Life Pivot

We turn on our heels and hatch a new plan: a 4-month van trip from Portland to San Diego. I focus on finishing our van buildout, of planning and execution with freeeeedom as the goal. At the end of 2013, we drop our kitty Oliver off at the in-laws and head south.

The van doesn’t have any running water and there aren’t any interior lights. We are ecstatic. Nature and creative time fill our days. Chelsea and I spend more quality time together than we have in years. We decide four months is wayyyy too short a trip…

I’m working remotely. It’s flexible, but not enough. We crunch some numbers and make another leap: I’ll refer all my clients to my staff. The goal: trade time for money. It’s time to own my business, not be owned.

I’m terrified it will fail, that my hard-fought efforts to build a business will crumble. The risk feels worth the potential reward – what’s the best that could happen? I make the leap.

Sometimes you’ve just gotta do it!

It works. Somehow. There are new headaches and surprises with the people I hire to cover my client load, but also mental space. Less money, more time. As a business owner, at some point hiring and delegation are key if you want to pursue other passions. The timing is never right. Scary. And also life-changing.

We celebrate the new flexibility with a bike tour 4,100 miles across the U.S. I only work a few hours per week on the tour. The decision to leave my engineering job is finally vindicated. This is the reason I started a business, not just to make money!

Two more years of travel follows, followed by the ability to choose where we want to live (Bend!) and sculpt our lives along lines true to our values and priorities. It’s never perfect – I’m still a Millennial, dammit – but the effort feels worth it.

A strong community AND outdoor fun: the perfect mix. 

The Journey Continues

Almost five years from our initial launch in the van and a decade out of the cubicle, I’d forgotten many of these trials. Writing this was a stark reminder of the truth: creating a business is HARD work, often filled with drudgery, dead ends and stress.

What seemed like terrible timing at the outset was actually luck, since I started in the murk of a recession and shot out on the upswing with a lean, nimble business. Even now, there’s no certainty of success. With the housing and stock market overheated again, who knows what will happen! Whatever. I’m confident in our ability to adapt, learn, live frugally, and create income if needed.

One thing’s for sure: I’m glad I didn’t buy a Camaro. I’d rather own a camper van.

YEEEHAW TO VANS AND SELF-EMPLOYMENT!

Why I Became A Wilderness First Responder

“Uh, Dakota, I’ve got fascia showing here,” John yelled. He ditched his bike by the trail, squeezing his left forearm.

Closer inspection revealed a wide 6” long gash that John could barely hold closed. A sharp stump protruding into the trail had hacked away some serious organic material (aka arm). Blood bubbled merrily away; white fat was visible in the cut.

Three months ago, my reaction is AHHHHHH, followed by: Stammering. Fumbling. Dropping everything. I was a liability in any medical situation, whether in the backcountry or at home.

But not this day. Thanks to a Wilderness First Responder class, I was prepared.

Instructors demonstrating a head-to-toe examination on me.

Accept That Things Can Go Wrong

“Be comfortable being uncomfortable,” our instructor Mike told me during a post-class hangout. This is a guy who has climbed Denali, Mt. Rainier, and big mountains in South America over 100 times. He’s an understated badass.

Be comfortable. Being uncomfortable.

Shit happens when you’re engaged in outdoor activities like mountain biking, skiing, rock climbing, trail running and all the other sports I enjoy. People fall off bikes, tumble off a trail, take a fall climbing and slam an ankle (a college friend created a mini-epic in the Needles with that one). Stories abound.

My friend Andrew on the infamous Heinous Cling at Smith Rock. Nothing like climbing 30 feet above your last bolt. Gulp.

If we want to play outside, we must accept things can go wrong. They WILL go wrong. Sure, it’s easy to pretend all will be ok, but I’d rather prepare for that eventuality. There’s comfort readiness.

For years, I talked about taking some kind of wilderness medical training, but never made it a priority. The time. The cost. Excuses. A couple injured friends last year (one snapping an ankle on a mountain ride in Bellingham, another on a jump trail) finally pushed me over the edge. Chelsea and I both signed up for the class.

A multi-pronged rescue getting Tom off the trails after he snapped his ankle in Bellingham.

What is a Wilderness First Responder?

Enter the Wilderness First Responder (WFR) class, pronounced Woofer. In nine days and 80 hours of instruction (full-on immersion!), we went deep on wilderness medicine. The WFR is a step below an EMT certification and teaches a rigorous framework for assessing someone in need of medical attention.

From broken bones to cardiac conditions to a focused spinal assessment to psychological issues to communicating clearly via radio/phone with other medical teams, we covered hours of useful skills. Between classroom lessons, we practiced a dozen scenarios with various trauma and medical conditions, hammering home a mindset for approaching adverse situations we might encounter.

The handy Patient Assessment System (PAS).

Learning a Focused Spinal Assessment in class. We’d then practice in live scenarios.

Until recently, something as simple as Chelsea cutting her finger with a kitchen knife threw me into a tizzy. I’d rip open bandaids (usually the wrong ones) and do nothing right. WFR training teaches a process to follow, a checklist for evaluating a situation. Clear-headed, systematic confidence is at the root of their teaching.

Most scenarios were quick, 30 minutes with head-to-toe exams to practice the WFR evaluation framework. Some were more in-depth, including a mock night rescue scenario in the woods where we ended up using jackets, trekking poles, medkits – anything we had on us. We stabilized a compound fracture, handled a seizure, and stayed warm in near-freezing conditions. (Pro tip that a team member taught me: tea candles are long-burning fire starters.)

Scenarios like this were excellent for under-the-gun training.

Staying warm during a night rescue scenario. That fire was very necessary!

Takeaway: even a short hike can lurch out of control, and it’s usually at the end of the day when everyone is tired and thinking of hot food and a shower, not where their next foot placement is.

Another big simulation was a Mass Casualty Incident rescue where a Jeep and ATV collided and six people needed rescuing. We set up a a central command, coordinated with medical personnel, stabilized injuries, then hauled them around on steep, rocky terrain for rescue by helicopter.

IT WAS CRAZY. We didn’t know how many patients were out there (our instructor secretly recruited his children to be victims) or where they were. Various rescuers even “passed out” or overreacted. But the 26 students wrestled the situation under control and made it happen. All of us walked away thinking, “Hey, I can do this!”

Mass casualty incident. Our instructor’s kids were convincing patients!

I Don’t Need This Crap! I Don’t Even Like the Outdoors

Many of the scenarios we talked about in class were not extreme sports accidents. A relative clearing gutters falling off a ladder at a cabin in the woods. Slips off hiking trails looking at the view (my mom did this at Smith Rock a week after the class and scared the hell out of me and Chelsea). Someone with heart problems collapsing a mile into an easy waterfall hike. A kid getting bit by a rattlesnake on a rafting trip. It could happen to you.

The WFR is for anyone who spends time in the outdoors; the rough rule is that if you’re an hour from a hospital, you’re in a wilderness scenario. If you come across someone groaning and semi-conscious on a hiking trail, you know how to help them. That’s empowering!

Practicing splinting a broken leg with typical camp supplies (jackets, sleeping pad).

Learning bandaging! This is Tagaderm, a magic breathable layer that stays on a lonnng time.

Rescue Is Far, Far Away

Maybe you’re thinking, “Why bother with this stuff when a search and rescue (SAR) team is a phone call or SOS signal away?” Good question.

Judd, a guy in our class, does underwater cave exploration as a (serious) hobby. He’s mapped never-explored caves all over the world, from the South Pacific to Madagascar. Sometimes he spends 18 hours straight underwater using an astronaut-style rebreathing apparatus. His stories of “mishaps” in scary places were a biiiit sobering.

You’d think his personal rescue story involves international waters and a foreign government. Nope! He was skiing out-of-bounds at Steamboat Springs, a day like any given Sunday. A nasty fall broke some bones (and his back). Even so close to the resort, with experienced friends, he wound up overnighting in the snow in a shattered state before a rescue team arrived. Knowing how to stabilize a situation like that is important.

SAR teams are usually volunteers. When a call or distress signal comes in, they first evaluate whether it’s an actual rescue scenario. (Often, it’s not.) If it is, they have to rally gear and people, set up a base camp, assess the situation, and get a plan rolling. When a litter or backboard is necessary, you need 18 people to form three groups of six for hauling people out. On rough terrain, it is HARD to move an injured person in a stretcher, as we found out during scenarios.

Chelsea gets hauled up steep rocks in a backboard to practice an overland carry. It’s hard work!

At the end of the day, rescue is hours (or days) away. Pushing SOS on your SPOT transceiver might feel good, but knowledge for stabilizing a situation or taking matters into your own hands is key. Splinting a broken arm or taping a severely sprained ankle and hiking to the car is often faster (and definitely cheaper!) than waiting for the helicopter to show up.

As our witty instructor Dan told us, it takes Diesel Power: Dees feet got you in, dies-el get you out!

WFR in Action

Back on the trail. John holds his arm; I bust out my trail medkit. I almost forget to put on my nitrile gloves (first step before helping a patient), but remember last-second. *Snap snap*, ready to go. It takes a dozen Steristrips and some finagling to close the wound, but we get it.

GNARLY PICTURE ALERT: SCROLL PAST THE NEXT PHOTO IF YOU’RE SQUEAMISH.

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I definitely would have freaked out seeing this before the WFR class! John’s arm was gnarly. Here it is just prior to stitches after all the dressings were removed. Gnarly, yes, but better than when there was blood pouring from the wound.

A gauze bandage, plus tape wrap, and things are looking better. Final topping: John’s elbow pad, a snug cover to hold everything in place for the ride out. An hour later, he’s at urgent care getting a dozen stitches. WFR win!

What strikes me is what I didn’t do (freak out). John knew I’d taken the class and trusted that I knew how to proceed. Rather than a potentially gnarly wound bleeding profusely with miles to pedal out, we rigged a tight, secure bandage sufficient to get my buddy to urgent care.

John with his bandaged arm. To his credit, he laughed and joked through the entire bandaging process.

The backcountry is a dangerous place for us soft-bodied humans. We aren’t designed to fall, overheat, freeze, twist, bang, scrape or otherwise smack into our environment. No matter how prepared we are, there’s always risk. (That’s what makes outdoor exploits exciting!)

A couple months out from my WFR class, the maxim “Be comfortable being uncomfortable” keeps resonating. By investing in skills like wilderness medicine, primitive survival and orienteering, we equip ourselves to explore the world and push our limits in various environments.

This is for you, your friends, and any stranger you come across in need of help. I’m planning to continue my education in various outdoor skills, and I encourage you to as well. The person who needs your help in the future will appreciate it.

The WFR crew!

Resources

If you don’t have time/cash for the full WFR, check out Wilderness First Aid classes. At the very least, a CPR/basic first-aid class is worth your time. Many employers will pay for you to take the classes, especially if you work as a guide or are in the field frequently.

A few links:

There are other companies and classes, but since I only have experience with NOLS, I’ll stop here.

By the way, I received no compensation for this post. I wrote it because I now realize how ill-prepared I was in the past and I don’t want anyone to feel that way if something bad happens during an outdoor adventure. Here’s to excitement AND safety outside.

Rappelling off a multi-pitch climb at Smith Rock. ONWARD!

Downshifting from Van Life

I’ve aimed to write this post for over eight months. (All photos in this post are from that time frame too!) It’s for anyone dreaming of traveling long-term, and also for those living that dream wondering, “Will we do this forever?”

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As long-time readers know, Chelsea and I launched our van trip in fall 2013 for a four-month jaunt down the coast of California. “FOUR MONTHS IS SO LONG!” our friends opined. “Don’t forget Oliver,” said Chelsea’s parents as we dropped our fuzzy companion off for cat-sitting.

Little did we (and my unsuspecting in-laws) know we’d live the van life for three years, not four months.

Backpacking with Chelsea’s parents in the Jefferson Wilderness last July.

The Magic of Full-Time Travel

The excitement of travel pulled like a large planet’s gravity. We easily fell into an orbit that took us to 18 countries by van, bike, and plane. I freed up time and mental space by hiring more people for my business, extracting myself from day-to-day client work. It was a scary leap with a real chance of disintegrating into a broken heap. (At least we had the van!)

Things worked out.

Patrick rappelling off a route at Smith Rock.

So we traveled. It was relaxing, simple in many ways (open calendar, every day!), creatively inspiring, a sabbatical from many of the responsibilities of “adult” existence.

I dove into photography and writing and built this blog. My random musings somehow attracted a million visitors and allowed us to meet many adventurous people who eschew the (typical) American Dream.

Many readers are in our shoes, professionals tired of living someone else’s narrative of “success.” They’re flipping the bird at the 9-to-5 and proverbial picket fence and heading out to find open space where the wind sings through trees or roars over the desert landscape.

I met Rich and Esther at a trailhead in 2016. “Hey, I know your van!” Here’s Rich a year later zipping down Xanadu, a sweeeet trail with sweeter views near Leavenworth, WA.

We chewed up mountain bike trails, then 7,000 miles of roads while cycle touring the U.S. and Europe. New York and Santa Cruz each distracted us for a month, as did studying Spanish in Mexico, roadtripping Iceland, and volunteering at a farm sanctuary.

Our travels also strongly focused on people. We spent quality time with our families and developed friendships all over the globe. I regularly stay in touch with buddies from our travels and see them around the states.

Making a snowman with my nephew, Sam. He then crushed me at a snowball fight.

 On the Road…Forever?

At one point, Chelsea asked me, “I wonder if we’ll always be nomads?” At the time, the answer felt like a resounding yes.

And yet, like any frequent activity, the shiny luster faded from full-time travel. What started as a sort of sabbatical turned into a repetitive daily orbit of logistics. Traveling went from stimulating immersion in new places to shallow dips into too many places, voyeurism without involvement. Even a few multi-week stays and volunteering felt too short.

 

Paul dives into Waldo Lake on a chilly October day. Yes, that water is as cold as it looks.

We missed community and tired of constantly saying goodbye. We met adventurous and stoked people, but interactions were short-lived. Was it possible to create a traveling caravan of friends who rolled around together, we wondered…?

Instead, we dug deep in a short time period with people, talking life, traveling, unconventional choices. Then travel inertia – gotta keep moving! – or common courtesy to not overstay our welcome would grab hold. We’d exchange hugs, talk about plans to meet in the future, and point our wheels toward the distant horizon.

Enjoying the views off NW chair with my buddy Robert on Mt. Bachelor. That’s Sparks Lake and South Sister in the distance.

The Travel Pull

When I questioned why I wanted to keep traveling, I unearthed four primary reasons:

1) Daily access to the outdoors
2) Momentum (we’re moving and therefore must keep moving)
3) Positive reinforcement feeding my ego (people saying “wow, I’ve always wanted to do that!” or “you’re living the dream!”)
4) That we COULD travel full-time, so we should (right?).

Not if it no longer fed what we sought to do or how we wanted to grow.

Of those four aspects, only daily outdoor access made sense anymore. Chelsea felt this earlier than I did and was ready to land in one place.

There’s a metaphor here about hanging onto something…

I’ve seen this shift in dozens of travelers. Friends with big social media followings or a popular blog often hit a point where another new place didn’t ring their bell anymore. Posting online starts to feel forced, a job rather than a joy. Their social media profiles blinked out, blog posts shifted to every few weeks, then quarterly, then gone.

I was no exception.

A magic, strenuous day on Angel’s Staircase in the N. Cascades.

Figuring out where to park the van was the hard part. When we’d return to Portland for visits, I felt trapped by the big city. The combination of gray days and no quick access to nature dragged on me. I was depressed and irritable, frustrated with concrete and traffic.

During our travels, we eyed mountain towns in the west as potential places to pop out landing gear and stick around for awhile. Santa Cruz, Boulder, San Luis Obispo, Bozeman. There was always a reason a place didn’t feel right.

Enter Bend, Oregon, the seat of Lifestyle Awesomeness. We’d visited the surrounding area a fair amount, but never dug into the city. After traveling Iceland and Canada in 2016, we rolled the van into Bend to rent a friend’s place and see how things shook out.

Sunset at Old Mill on the Deschutes River in Bend.

How It Feels to Be In One Place

Over a year later, our new homebase is Bend! We sold our Portland home and bought a house in Bend in a quirky, connected neighborhood.

People don’t randomly wind up in Bend. Most work hard and create the opportunity to live here. We’ve discovered new friends are available and prioritize investing in friendship and family, time outside, health, travel and giving back to the community. We’re loving the strong community of active, positive, engaged friends and the easily accessible outdoor magic.

Cookbook club! Get a bunch of friends together and cook amazing food from one vegan cookbook per month. It’s that easy!

Thanks to prioritizing access to and preservation of public lands, Bend is an outdoor playground with miles of singletrack for mountain biking and running, skiing on Mt. Bachelor and world-class rock climbing at Smith Rock. If there’s a downside to the town, it’s minor growing pains as it goes from small to medium size. Sometimes there’s a 3 min wait at a roundabout! (NOOOO.)

What makes Bend resonate for us isn’t solely the outdoor wonderland. For a mountain town, there’s a lot going on. Music, coffee shops, kombucha makers and breweries galore (not that I drink beer!), unlimited festivals in the summer, all the running and biking events you’d ever want, and a growing business hub are just a sampler.

The open space we created for traveling shifted easily to other arenas. A natural organizer, Chelsea spearheaded things. She joined the board of a local vegan nonprofit, started a plant-powered running group and cookbook club, and filled our calendars with marches, fundraisers, and political events. In a year, we’re more involved in Bend than we ever were in Portland.

Plant-Powered Runners! This crew is awesome.

Rallying friends at our house for the Jan 2018 Women’s March in Bend.

On top of that, I’m finding myself more active in Bend. This is thanks to the strong outdoors scene and access to everything I love to do so close to our door.

I spent 2017 in a mix of physical activity (perhaps too much!), joining events with Chelsea, and investing energy into my business. This year, I’m aiming for less work and more creative time and travel, plus weekly Plant-Powered Runners outings, big dinner parties, and community events. I’m surprised how easily time traveling is filled with other satisfying pursuits.

How can you not get outside with this 30 minutes away?

So What’s the Plan, Yo?

This city is a stellar fit for us and we’ve decided Bend is our home for the foreseeable future. We’re rooting, but we will still step off into sweet adventures.

“Are you selling the van!?” people have asked. No. Freaking. Way. Too many climbing areas the van needs to visit! I also need it to scope out the trails around Crested Butte, c’mon! A trip to Wyoming and Idaho is already slated for May.

My shredder friend Jeremy launching off Trail #3 at Cline Butte with the Cascades in the background.

We’re kicking around an idea for another bike tour; the idea of long climbing trips to Greece, Spain, or Mexico makes me salivate. These travel boots aren’t even close to done walking!

This is a shift to a lifestyle we talked about for the past few years. We’ll dig deep into community and still water the seeds of travel when we feel the itch. By spending months in Bend mixed with trips near and far, we’ll polish both sides of the travel and home coin.

A snowy Crater Lake during a week-long mountain biking van trip to Southern Oregon.

Van Life as a Mindset

The social media tag #vanlife represents freedom from a staid, boring existence. There’s a reason Millennials are flocking to it. We’re repeating the paths of anti-establishment parents back in the 1960s. This time around, though, people can work remotely, freelancing from Yosemite, writing software code from Moab, or editing science papers in a ski resort parking lot.

Even if Chelsea and I aren’t traveling in a van full-time, #vanlife carries into the way we live. For me, it’s a mentality as much as a way of life, encompassing adventure, minimalism, and an open-minded, flexible approach to travel. It’s an examined, intentional approach.

About to examine the downhill on Fuji Mountain near Waldo Lake!

This is a new phase, and not the last. I expect continuing shifts filled with moments for play and exploring, time for growth and building, space to give back, and occasionally the chance to do it all. There’s no playbook for this version of the American Dream, just an evolving patchwork quilt called life. A stitch here and there adding new experiences, a rearranging of the patterns as needed.

It’s about the adventure of living a balanced, exciting life of play, community and contribution. Full-time travel no longer lit us up, so it was time for a shift. We all need to weave together pleasure, purpose, and pride. Done correctly, it creates a strong rope to hoist away toward a happy, satisfied life. That’s our aim in this next stage.

The ever-evolving book of our lives continues. The Bend chapter continues with rip-roaring satisfaction and fun. Instead of “going places to be moved,” as Pico Iyer describes travel, we’ve landed and sunk both feet in deep, toes gripping, arms wide.

It feels great.

We’re still having fun!

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Have you traveled long-term and felt the pull to land somewhere? I’d love to hear how you handled the shift from full-time travel to a rooted existence.

Goals Are So Last Year. This Works Better.

A bit quiet on the blog recently! We spent December digging into snow sports in Bend and hanging with family for the holidays. In other news, a podcast interview we did called “Creating a Life of Adventure” was the #1 show for 2016 on The Startup Sessions. If you’re new to Traipsing About, it’s a great way to get to know us.

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Ready to dive headfirst into the new year? It’s a time of reflection and goals to better ourselves, to keep growing. So why do many resolutions belly flop off the diving board of good intentions like an ungainly kid at summer camp?

“Goals are for losers. Systems are for winners,” says Scott Adams, creator of the comic Dilbert, in his book. This sounds flippant coming from a guy who draws pointy-haired cubicle workers, so allow me to explain.

Losing weight, that famous New Year’s resolution, is a goal; eating right is a system. “I want to travel” is a goal. A system of saving money or developing work you can perform remotely is a system.

Goals are great, but without a concrete system to underpin and support them, it’s all just talk, aspirations that wither beneath the hot sun of real life. Find a person who is successful – by any definition – and most are focused on systems, not stand-alone goals.

It’s full-on winter around here. Sometimes, you’ve gotta take the AT (alpine touring) skis to pick up take out for dinner!

From Wishful Thinking to a Business System

Early in my business career, I set arbitrary monthly revenue goals based on nice-sounding, random numbers. Turns out there isn’t a fairy depositing money in the Bank of Wishing. As the saying goes, wish in one hand and spit in the other and see which one fills up first. Neither pays the mortgage.

My forecasts only worked when I laid a foundation (system!) beneath my aspirations and took concrete action. How many weekly presentations and meetings could I schedule? From those, how many potential clients would I talk to? Using actionable items, I built a solid understanding of how many people I needed to speak with to make a certain amount. (Yes, there were spreadsheets.)

Revenue increased, and also grew more consistent. As a benefit of implementing a system, I found confidence and peace of mind; if I did the work, success followed. From simple groundwork, I didn’t have to worry about revenue whipsawing like peaks and valleys in the Alps.

Day One alpine skiing at Mt. Bachelor! We almost look like we know what we’re doing…

Hanging with C’s bro on Mt. Bachelor. Goggles and face masks make one look so serious…

One Way to Organize Systems

To be clear, I’m not advocating for scheduling every second of our lives the way Cal Newport prescribes. (I’ve tried that and it wasn’t for me.) Time for the mind to wander and drift is important. My life isn’t a system – borrrrring – but my personal goals are (usually) supported by one.

When I need to crank out projects, I break things down into bite-size pieces using the Secret Weapon. This is simply Evernote coupled with the Getting Things Done method, and it serves as my external brain.

For recent updates to our Sprinter van, I used sub-projects. “Install water system” had components like “order sink” or “find water tank drain plug.” A big, nebulous goal languishes on a to-do list until the zombies attack. (Then we need chainsaws, not planning!)

The same applies to anything we seek to achieve. Be it business, physical ambitions, books we want to read, or a big personal project, systems rock.

Cruising XC ski trails with buddies.

Using Systems for Physical Pursuits

I’m currently focused on three primary physical challenges. Two have specific goals; all require systems.

First, I’m aiming to push my rock climbing abilities to new limits. (Specifically, leading a 5.13 sport route outside.) Can I achieve this by unfocused climbing a few days a week at the gym or Smith Rock? Perhaps…

It’s a hell of a lot more likely to happen if I dig into a periodized training plan that removes overthinking and guess work. It’s not a grind, it’s a plan, and I still have fun. (Except for hangboard workouts. Those are simply hard work.)

A system takes decision making out of the daily actions. Follow a step-by-step plan and find greater success than where we start. Even if I don’t crank out a 5.13 next year, I’ll make considerable gains.

It’s not all snow around here…Smith Rock still has fun to offer in the winter!

I’m also focused on a consistent, balanced strength and mobility system. Since I want to stay active for years to come by investing in my body’s 401(k), I need a system. Focusing on Gymnastics Bodies allows me to bike, climb, run and ski (a new hobby) without injury. With 30 minutes per day, I’m maintaining a strong foundation for the physical challenges I want to pursue.

Lastly, I signed up for a 100-mile mountain bike race in July called High Cascades. That’s more than twice as long as any mountain bike ride I’ve done and will likely take over 10 hours to finish.

This requires a training regimen containing endurance and speed work, plus dialing in my hydration and food plan. It will take work, but if I follow the plans I lay out, I’ll have fun, learn a ton, and have a solid shot at success.

Dawn patrol skate ski session near Bend. Skate skiing is proving to be a) an incredible workout and b) very technique-heavy!

Get Your System On

As you’re reflecting on 2016 and eyeing next year, think about ambitions for 2017 and beyond. Take aspirations and build support lattices around them. Tell friends about your plans (or maybe not); make a bet that you’ll stick to it; allocate a reward for hitting your target.

Enjoy the day-to-day plan, training and focus that’s necessary to slowly build toward success. Think about what your future self would thank you for and start the long-term projects. The days are slow, but the years are fast!

As 2016 wraps up, are there systems you can put in place to build toward ticking projects off the bucket list?

Hiking Pilot Butte with my folks, views of the Cascade Mtns in the background.

Chelsea and fam showing off their ski skills.

Road trippin’ to Portland to for a visit.

Views to the west from Mt. Bachelor.

Cutting Back on Social Media Distractions – Experiment Results

Lake Louise

I recently wrote about an experiment to claim control of my tech and social media life. Some tweaks worked, some didn’t. After 1.5 months of testing, here’s a quick update on the success (or failure) of those four goals.

As a good stress test of this, we spent October living in (and loving) Bend, followed by a week in Portland. We also tacked on fun days in 93-degrees-in-November Los Angeles for Farm Sanctuary’s anniversary gala, a fabulous event. (“Not traveling” is relative for us, I suppose.)

This challenge wasn’t about perfection. I knew there would be some modification to my initial plan, though I didn’t end up changing much. I’m surprised how passionately people respond when this challenge comes up. “Oh, I really want to do something like that!” It seems many of us realize the time drain or addiction that our devices can create.

A splendid day outside.

A splendid day in Yoho National Park.

With the election behind us (and piles of uncertainty ahead!), I’d wager social media time skyrocketed for most of us. Chelsea and I are inspired by the activism and positive energy we’ve seen pour forth – it’s awesome to see friends who never post about politics adding their voice to the mix.

Now is an important time to come together and let our voices be heard. I also think it’s necessary to compartmentalize the noise and only take in news and social media in chunks, which has only reinforced my commitment to this experiment.

The famously-high first bolts at Smith Rock always keep me focused...

The famously-high first bolts at Smith Rock always keep me focused…

Here’s how my four goals played out…

A weekly digital Sabbatical: Phone off and computer off on Saturday.

I’ll start off with the fail. Frankly, the digital Sabbatical I attempted to do every Saturday did NOT work for me.

There’s just too much communication in my life on weekends, ranging from coordination of outdoor activities, plans with friends, texts to Chelsea (“hey, I’m gonna be 2.5 hours late getting back from a bike ride”), or answering calls from tenants. Turns out my phone is an integral part of my daily life.

Luckily, in combination with the three items below, a digital Sabbatical turned out to be less necessary. Without the distracting pull from my phone, I’m far more present on Saturday. To keep boundaries on social media, I’ve opted to not post on Instagram or Facebook on the weekends.

All in all, an interesting experiment in being completely disconnected with too many potential headaches or trouble relative to the gain. I’m fine with that.

Saluting the Canadian Rockies! Pretty sure it was Saturday.

Saluting the Canadian Rockies in Banff! Pretty sure it was Saturday.

A no-phone rule during meals and in the bedroom

This rule is GREAT. I feel far more connected to people when I’m sitting down for a meal. Beyond that, there have been zero times when any texts or phone calls were so time sensitive that they couldn’t wait 1-2 hours.

Not having my phone by the bedside first thing in the morning is fantastic. On top of my usual reading, I’ve made a habit of firing up my Kindle in the morning and wound up reading over a dozen books in October.

Rather than reading on my phone, I bought a used Kindle that I am enjoying vs my phone. It’s also nice to signal “no interruptions please, I’m reading,” rather than the mixed signals looking at my phone. (Which used to mean I was just screwing around on social media!)

Morning sunrise in Yoho National Park, no cell signal allowed.

Morning sunrise in Yoho National Park, no cell signal allowed.

Deleting social media from my phone

This. Is. AWESOME. In the past, I’d grab my phone to flip through various feeds juuuust to check in. Now, my phone only has functional apps or (boring) work email on it, so I spend that time doing something else. (Even if it’s just standing in line talking to the person next to me.)

Gramblr has worked well for Instagram. Even though I’ve been riding, running or climbing almost every day since we got to Bend, I haven’t felt a daily pull to share. I haven’t posted a photo of the van in almost two months! *gasp*

I’ve definitely experienced moments where I wish I had social media to pull my attention away from boredom or as a distraction. Instead, I’m forced to face whatever I don’t REALLY want to be doing and just take care of it, which I think is a positive change.

Hanging with new friends at Lake Louise.

Hanging with new friends at Lake Louise. (First photo in this post is of Lake Louise also.)

Deleting personal email access my phone

Ahhh, silence. My phone is no longer a source of to-dos. By time blocking and only responding to personal email on my computer, I no longer stand frozen in grocery stores tip-tapping out a (slow, misspelled) response.

As a side effect to this, I’ve also backed off on responding to work email on my phone. If I’m away from my laptop, I’ll scan through email here and there, but unless it’s time sensitive, I just handle it later.

I highly recommend this tweak for anyone who separates their work and personal emails. Less time thinking about email is better time spent, if you ask me!

Smith Rock: My new backyard climbing playground and all-around beautiful location. Sunset turns the Crooked River into a perfect mirror of the red rock walls.

Smith Rock: My new backyard climbing playground and all-around beautiful location. Sunset turns the Crooked River into a perfect mirror of the red rock walls.

***

All in all, I’m calling this experiment a success. I feel more focused, better connected to people when I’m with them, and I’m reading a lot. Other than the digital Sabbatical, which didn’t work with my lifestyle, I’m planning to incorporate all the tweaks as permanent changes.

Here’s to finding some space to shut down devices and spend quality time with friends and family this coming week. Happy Thanksgiving!

If you’ve tried any social media or technology diets, what has stuck and what didn’t work for you?

You thought I'd go an entire post without a mountain biking shot? HAAAAA. Here's my buddy Paul enjoying a perfect day on Cline Butte in Central Oregon.

You thought I’d go an entire post without a mountain biking shot? HAAAAA. Here’s my buddy Paul enjoying a perfect day on Cline Butte in Central Oregon.

An Experiment in Decreasing Social Media Distractions

Fresh air and big views in Waterton National Park!

Noise has tugged at my concentration lately. Not voices in my head (I’m used to those), but comments, likes, and a gravitational pull from my phone.

I’ve felt myself twitching to check in, to scan through social media. My phone feels like a distraction scalpel, slicing away my ability to focus.

This has happened before, but this time, rather than my drastic measures of both 2014 and 2015 – when I completely checked out of social media for six months – I’m aiming for a more nuanced approach. After all, I meet and stay in touch with adventurous, fun people through Facebook and my Instagram account. I don’t want to shut that down.

Meeting (and hiking with) rad new friend in Canada!

Hiking with rad new friends in Canada!

I love connecting with friends and always look forward to hearing from people. This isn’t about removing that contact. Instead, I want to be completely present when I’m with someone in person. Too many times lately I’ll be talking to Chelsea while scanning my phone and will just stop mid-sentence, losing my train of thought, or else find myself texting or checking email during a meal.

I can’t just tell myself, “No social media except during these times of day.” It doesn’t work. I need a stronger obstacle than just moving an app to the 2nd screen on my phone. It’s similar to putting chocolate chip cookies out of sight versus not buying them. If they’re in the house, I will find and eat ALL the cookies.

To curb the frequent distractions, in September I added some structure to my tech life. These are tests, and I’ll report back later regarding how things are going. I will say that I already feel less distracted and present, which is exactly my goal.

Who needs a phone when you've got boxes?

When I was a kid, we played with boxes, not smartphones. Oh wait, this was only a few weeks ago.

My four experiments:

A weekly digital Sabbatical

Phone off and left behind, computer snapped shut and in a cabinet. More time to explore the outdoors, hang with Chelsea and/or friends, build something, read, or dig into other creativity. Maybe I’ll learn how to cook something besides stir fries and burritos! (*Cue Chelsea fainting in surprise*)

A no-phone rule during meals and in the bedroom

No more pulling my phone out mid-meal to check a text or Google some random fact. It’s easy to say, “Oh, I’ll just look that up,” or “Check out this photo!” The distraction continues and the conversation thread unravels.

Beyond that, I’m also no longer setting my phone on the table during meals. Leaving a phone in sight signals to my companion that I’m present and engaged, but ONLY until some other communique shoulders its way into our conversation. I don’t want that. Prior to meals, I’m putting my phone on do not disturb and banishing it to my pocket.

The same applies for phone use in the bedroom. No more: my phone (and Chelsea’s) will spend the night recharging in another space. Since I read all my books via my phone, I’m going to pick up a cheap Kindle for nighttime reading, which is probably better for my eyes anyway.

High on the Devil's Thumb in Banff with Lake Louise behind us.

High on the Devil’s Thumb in Banff with Lake Louise behind us…with phones off.

Deleting social media from my phone

Facebook was relegated to computer-only long ago, but my Instagram use warrants adjustment.

I still want to use Instagram, just not on my phone. To accomplish that, I downloaded the free program Gramblr, which facilitates posting from my computer. (Update 10/25/18: Gramblr is defunct, so I’m now using the much-better Web for Instagram Chrome extension.) I edit all my photos in Lightroom on my laptop anyway, so this streamlines things.

I can scroll through IG and FB feed from my laptop, though I’m less likely to impulsively do so. I’m already spending that time on things like writing, reading, watching mountain biking videos (KIDDING), or editing videos and photos. The shift in my distraction levels was immediate and dramatic.

Phone stuff, on the other hand, fits into moments like grocery shopping, standing in line, driving, eating… What was a handy tool instead became an ever-creeping amoeba eating away moments of silence or solitude. As Lewis C.K. has said, sometimes we just need to be alone and not constantly bombarded by information.

Deleting personal email access my phone

No more scanning Gmail during “down” moments. I’ll be on top of work stuff, but personal emails can wait until I’m at a computer.

This is a two-fold victory: I won’t be pulled to check email all the time, and it is more efficient to respond on a computer versus pecking away on my phone.This isn’t an Email Commandment. I’m not setting time parameters like, “Ye shalt only look from 8-8:15 pm.” Simply removing the capability to look at email on my phone is enough to result in time-blocking, efficient email processing on my laptop.

No time to think about Instagram or email riding terrain like this. (Black Rock Mtn, Alberta)

No time to think about Instagram or email while riding terrain like this. (Black Rock Mtn, Alberta)

I love technology and I’m not deleting my interaction with social media or technology. My phone just won’t be the epicenter for me.

I’m 12 days in and at times, it honestly still feels strange. When I use my phone, the twitch to flip through various feeds and open my email (just for the heck of it) remains.

And yet, my desire to look at my phone or scan Instagram/Facebook is already fading. The mind rewires quickly. I think (hope!) this experiment will become a permanent addition to my life.

How do you deal with curtailing technology and social media overload in your life?

Loving a tech-free day in the highlands of Iceland.

Loving a tech-free day of hiking in the highlands of Iceland.

Investing in Your Body’s 401(k)

Surveyors Ridge Oregon

This post is inspired by a podcast interview I did with The Consummate Athlete. Check it out here! Topics ranged from my daily habits to navigating van life to benchmarks for my personal fitness to why I love ping pong as much as shredding rocky trails on my mountain bike.
—–

I didn’t “exercise” as a kid. Like most people my age, I simply played. Exercise was climbing trees and running around. There wasn’t a routine or plan – it was simply part of my daily lifestyle.

Then came the years of sitting at desks at school and lifting weights so I could smack a baseball over a fence. (And impress the ladies). I could bench 285, but I couldn’t touch my toes without my eyes bugging out.

Zip forward three decades and here I am, recently 34 years old. I’m still very active, but the range of motion in my hips, shoulders, and other joints are closer to a rusty Tin Man than my younger self.

As I head toward the Land of Middle Age, my goal is to stay active in many sports. To achieve this, I’ve realized a haphazard approach to fitness and flexibility won’t suffice. It’s going to take more of a concerted effort.

Exploring Oneonta Gorge in Oregon.

Exploring the Oneonta Gorge in Oregon…with icy toes.

What Are Your Fitness Benchmarks?

The esteemed mountaineer Conrad Anker does two things every year to encourage staying in shape – run a marathon and climb El Capitan in Yosemite. This got me thinking about what my personal fitness barometers might be. I encourage you to do the same.

Rather than a couple big goals, I opted for specific items along the lines of the Presidential Fitness test we did as kids, with some other sports mixed in. My baseline goals – ones I want to be able to do anytime, anywhere – are:

  • 50 pushups
  • 15 pullups (no kipping!)
  • 15 dips
  • Hold a plank for 2 minutes without shaking like a rabid rattlesnake
  • Touch my toes with straight legs
  • Run ten miles
  • Ride a century on a road bike OR 35 miles of gnarly, physical terrain on my mountain bike
  • Swim a mile straight (in a pool)
  • Lead 5.11 climbing routes
  • Beat my friend Jaysun at ping pong (I love the outdoors and adrenaline sports, but for some reason also find a ton of joy in the focused fun of this sport)

While we’ve been landed in Portland, it’s been easy to maintain these. Most can be done while traveling, though it depends. Some will atrophy during long, single-activity trips like bike touring, backpacking, or eating large servings of carrot cake for three months. Others are a starting point – if I’m planning a long climbing trip, I’ll get after it and hopefully be cranking on 5.12s by go time.

I’ve also enjoyed benchmark Crossfit workouts as an excellent way to test overall fitness, not to mention a damn fine workout when I’ve only got time for a short workout. I’m not a Crossfitter and have never been to their gyms, but my favorite test is one called Cindy. It’s 20 minutes to complete as many sets as possible of 5 pullups, 10 pushups, and 15 air squats. If don’t splat on your back in a puddle of sweat afterward, you are a cyborg.

All that’s nice, but what about staying limber? That’s where mobility work comes into play.

Oneonta Tunnel Oregon

.Exploring an old tunnel in Oregon.

Mobility Training (Ok, Stretching)

Lately I’ve also incorporated a mobility practice into my life. I don’t want tight hips, shoulders, ankles, and forearms limiting my performance in the activities I enjoy, and this is the ticket for that.

We all know we need to stretch more, warm up better, blah blah blah. Well, it still matters. Paraphrasing an Olympic strength coach: “If world-class power lifters are using their limited training time to stretch EVEN THOUGH their focus is strength, why aren’t you?” Fine.

I’m not the best at regular stretching, but have found that triggers work best for me. (I do one thing, then immediately do the desired activity afterward. e.g. Eat breakfast, brush teeth.) To accomplish this, I integrated a mobility practice into something I already do frequently: reading.

A number of books inspired this, most recently Ready to RunI also drew on an interview with an Olympic gymnastics coach and incorporated his fundamentals program. There’s no magic pill though – it still takes work. Most of us, including me, have so much body memory in the wrong positions that it’s going to take consistent, focused effort to repair the damage.

A great day on the trails of the Columbia Gorge. Photo: Scott Rokis.

Working on tight hamstrings in the Columbia Gorge. Photo: Scott Rokis.

The good news is that many mobility exercises provide entertainment for your partner. Chelsea routinely has laughing fits when I’m struggling through an ape or crab walk. Even with her antics, my mobility is improving after just a month of 10-20 minutes per day and I can actually picture the day when doing the splits won’t put me in the hospital.

If you’re like me and have tight hamstrings, hip flexors, and shoulders from biking/running/hunching over a device, these are my favorite exercises. You may dig them too:

  • Couch stretch – no, it’s not reeeeaching for the T.V. remote from the couch. Do a lunge with your rear knee on the ground, then reach back and lift your foot until it touches your butt. Shriek loudly, then relax until your eyes stop watering. Two-four minutes each side a couple times each day will change your hip flexors from twangy to the envy of all the ballerinas you know.
  • Deep squats – my ankles and hips are both tight. Until a week ago, sitting in a squat with heels on the ground resulted in me toppling over backward. My goal is a full squat with feet flat on the ground, and two minutes a few times a day is moving me forward.
  • Table top/crab pose – great for shoulder flexibility to stretch the pec minor muscle, the one in our chest that is constantly constricting as we hover over our glowing devices. Lots of variations on this – just Google “pec minor stretch”
  • Jefferson Curls – I’d never even heard of this exercise, but it’s the #1 recommendation from Gymnastic Bodies. It’s basically a weighted standing forward curl to bring back curvature and flexibility in your spine. My hamstrings and spine are in love with this stretch.

Do those four exercises consistently and I bet you’ll see great progress. I choose 2-3 each day and do them while I read books or blog posts, prior to a climbing session, or after a bike ride or run.

Mt Hood agrees that June alpine rides are the best. (Surveyors Ridge)

Taking a break during a ride near Mt Hood. June alpine rides are the best.

When I hear about older athletes who are still crushing it, consistency is the dominant theme. By staying on top of mobility and regularly exercising, they avoid injuries that sideline many athletes for big chunks of time and require starting over. Day in, day out, they take a few minutes to bang out some pushups or pullups, stand instead of sit at a desk (standing desks are magic for better posture), or choose stretching on the floor while watching a movie versus sinking into the couch. The small things add up over tie!

I write about this as both an accountability statement for myself and a reminder that it is TOTALLY possible to stay flexible, strong, and active as we age. I see it as an investment similar to saving for retirement. With a few minutes per day sunk into a Body 401(k), hopefully I’ll be pulling out returns for many years.

Zipping along perfect trails at Post Canyon.

Zipping along perfect trails at Post Canyon. Here’s to more of this for a long time!

Crowdfunding the Fair-Haired Dumbbell

Hanging with the old Ford

In 2007, I was a fresh-faced engineer working my first job after graduation and a year of travel. Flush with cash relative to years of penurious living, I wanted to invest my money, and not in old project cars like the above.

My reading list at the time was full of books about Warren Buffett and other money managers. Armed with tactics, I thought I could beat the market. I spent hours each day poring over stock charts, pretending I knew what I was doing.

I didn’t. When the 2008 financial meltdown nuked the market, I got hammered with (most) everyone else. Unfortunately, I had to sell at the bottom to free up cash after quitting my job, locking in the losses. My brilliant wife held onto her stocks through the chaos and came out way ahead.

What We Do Now

Eight years later, my investing style is much different. We mostly invest in index funds and via the stocks of a few companies whose services we use and like (e.g. Amazon, Netflix, Apple). I prefer set-and-forget weekly or monthly auto-investments through Wealthfront. This allows me to rarely think about the market crashing, burning, or whatever strong words the news uses for a 1% daily change. THE SKY IS FALLING! BUY GOLD AND PALLETS OF AMMO!

We also invest in what we know: real estate. Specifically, real estate in Portland, refuge for water-starved Californians searching for sub-seven-figure properties.

The problem is that single family real estate is a long-term play and requires managing the property, finding tenants, and being actively involved. On the other hand, commercial properties require a ton of cash to access or you have to buy a generic real estate investment trust (REIT) that holds shopping malls in the Midwest or office buildings in Florida. *Yawn*

As an alternative, we recently invested in a fun, different building named the Fair-Haired Dumbbell that breaks ground soon. A local developer (and cool dude) named Kevin Cavenaugh from Guerrilla Development is the brains behind this idea. They’ve done other interesting, successful projects in Portland, and this latest will house creative professionals on Portland’s east side. Update July 2016: Here’s a take on the project by the New York Times.

A digital mockup of the proposed Dumbbell. Photo credit Guerrilla Development.

A digital mockup of the proposed Dumbbell. Photo credit Guerrilla Development.

Why Do You Care?

We invested because we support Guerrilla’s mission to keep Portland awesome/weird and not just build boring structures with no zing. The exterior skin is a pattern by an Italian designer. Crazy, ugly, cool? At least it’s different.

Secondly, the Dumbbell is one of the first buildings in the country to use crowdfunding for part of its financing.

To do this, Kevin and Guerrilla Development worked to create an SEC-approved “Regulation A” offering. Basically, it’s a Kickstarter-style way to fund $1.5mm in equity in the Dumbbell. This allows someone to invest as little as $3,000 and get an 8% return from a chunk of the building profits. Certainly $3k isn’t chump change, but where else can you invest in a building for so little?

Sound intriguing? Check out Guerrilla’s investor page or watch their fun video about the project and why they crowdfunded it. We believe in this project and have recommended it to a number of friends. (Heads up that due to SEC regulations, this is only available to people who live in Washington, Oregon, California, Massachusetts, Virginia, and Washington D.C.)

I don’t benefit from writing about this, but merely love that crowdfunding opens commercial real estate to people who otherwise wouldn’t have access to it. I think (and hope!) we’ll be seeing a lot more of this type of financing structure in the future.

Dig this kind of article? Email me if you’d like to hear more about how we invest, what services we use, and other financial-related writing. If you’re into it, I may write more like it in the future.

Holding $50 USD each (in Laos currency) with my buddies Keif and Blythe in 2005. #poortravelingstudent

Holding $50 USD each (in Laos currency) with my buddies Keif and Blythe in a trip overseas in 2005. Yep, my shirt says COLLEGE and I wore glasses back then. #poortravelingstudent

A First Date in Prague

Meeting in Prague

Today is special. Ten years ago to the day, Chelsea and I met for the first time.

In Prague.

At the time, I was studying abroad in Gothenburg, Sweden. (Ok, mostly having fun.) Chelsea had just moved to Portland. Through an introduction from her brother, my college roommate, she and I wound up chatting online, then Skyping.

An offhand comment from me about traveling in Europe resulted in her booking a plane ticket to fly across the Atlantic for a first date. It was my bushy fro that wooed her.

I know, I know - I'm a serious charmer.

I know, I know – I’m a serious charmer.

We united in a square in Prague and kicked off a month journey through red-roofed Czech villages and Croatian islands with spectacular views and free house wine. Just in case we didn’t hit it off, Chelsea brought shirts emblazoned with FUN, the theme of the trip. She also brought fake buck teeth and temporary tattoos with sayings like Girl Love to embarrass me.

Turns out that we liked each other.

Two months later, she was back in Portland. Meanwhile, I took the Trans-Siberian Railroad across Russia with my brother. (A story for another day.) Then Chelsea soldiered through a long trip to meet me in Beijing to kick off our second date – 2.5 months exploring the far reaches of SE Asia from China to Thailand.

Top of a holy mountain somewhere in SW China.

Top of a mountain somewhere in SW China.

Let’s just say traveling together 24 hours per day is a quick way to get to know someone. We decided life together would be fun, so I got on a flight to Portland and moved in with her.

Since then, the saying about time flapping its wings has proven true. We’ve worked hard on businesses, dug into a community of friends in Portland, and built a life together. There were small trips, all woven into a busy work, social, and city life. The end of 2013 was major life shift when we headed out on a “four month” van trip that continues to evolve and has transformed how we aspire to live.

Alright, you caught me - this one is from a day exploring Vietnam by scooter. Everyone needs a pink umbrella while scootering...

Wait, that’s not our van! Exploring Vietnam by scooter in 2006. Pink umbrellas for rain protection are mandatory.

We get along well, even in a small space like a van or pedaling thousands of miles together, but we’re not perfect. There are fights, misunderstandings, and moments when she tells me to go for a run or force-feeds me to send my Hangry Alter-Ego (NARG) into retreat. (Check out my Happy Wife Happy Life post for tips on keeping it together on the road.)

Still, I figure we must be doing something right. When I think about it, there’s one thing that’s the bedrock of our successful partnership:

We never stop learning, or more importantly, being open to what the other person is learning.

It’s as simple as that. There are books about the five love languages, techniques on non-violent communication, and plenty of expensive therapists available. For us, continuing to learn, exploring the world, and growing keeps life interesting and aligns us on a path together.

Hanging with our favorite lambs at Farm Sanctuary.

Hanging with our favorite lambs at Farm Sanctuary.

To celebrate our ten year anniversary of meeting with a fitting gift, I dug deep into our photo collection. First, I picked over 1,000 photos of the two of us, starting April 5, 2006. Shots of us laughing, hiking, hanging with friends, doing handstands, wearing hats sideways, riding bikes, and all the fun of 3,650 days as a couple.

Then I made a photo mosaic with Mosaically using those photos to create a big print to surprise Chelsea. The shot I chose is a goofy one from our wedding day wearing those original FUN shirts. When you look at it from afar, it’s a portrait of the two of us. Upon closer inspection, it’s a 1,000 tiny moments we’ve spent together.

One of my favorite shots, now built from 10 years of fun moments.

One of my favorite shots, now built from 10 years of fun moments. (Here’s the original.)

After all, what is a relationship but a compilation of the moments shared with someone you care about? When I look at this print, I think of not just the times Chelsea made me smile, laugh, or feel special. I also dream of the expanding landscape of our lives, how many more adventures we will have, and how much we’ll learn and explore together. We’re just getting started.

Chelsea, thanks for being my life partner. Here’s to filling the next mosaic with many more photos of us sporting temporary tattoos or doing handstands. I love you.

I finally found a place to use a dorky wedding photo! It's amazing what those photographers can talk you into...

Yesssss – I finally found a place to use a dorky wedding photo! It’s amazing what those photographers can talk you into.

Digging Deep with Happiness Through Subtraction

Columbia Gorge Munra Point View Hike

Ten million self-help books exist, all promising to improve our lives. Many focus on a strict schedule and the addition of various tasks or practices: Meditating, exercising, time scheduling, eating well, always smiling, never complaining, being a perfect person…

Just turn into a robot and BOOM, life becomes easy.

Except it doesn’t work for most of us, including me. Changing multiple variables usually creates overload and a short circuit back to old habits.

A Different Approach

I prefer happiness through subtraction. Cut out the activities and habits that create misery, then add back things that make you grin each day when you open your eyes.

I was introduced to this concept by Nassim Taleb’s book AntifragileHe writes:

Happiness is best dealt with as a negative concept…the pursuit of happiness is not equivalent to the avoidance of unhappiness. Each of us certainly knows not only what makes us unhappy, but what to do about it.

Unfortunately, humans are terrible at guessing what will make us happy. We are great at figuring out what makes us miserable though! As Francis Jourdain said, “One can furnish a room very luxuriously by taking out furniture rather than putting it in.”

A magical spot at the base of Elowah Falls in Oregon.

A magical spot at the base of Elowah Falls in Oregon.

Subtract the Unhappy

Start with basic activities that make you unhappy. Perhaps it’s feeling guilty about a caffeine addiction, loathing daily mind-numbing conference calls, or the overwhelm of emails stacking up like Tetris blocks. What are the root causes of those things, and would eliminating them add considerably to your happiness?

Maybe we need caffeine because we’re exhausted each morning. But why are we tired? (New parents, you know why…sorry, but I can’t help you there!)

Was it from staying up late flipping through social media, or not sleeping well because computer screens churn out mind-stimulating blue waves? (Try Flux to address the latter; Apple’s new OS incorporates this idea.) Cutting social media or computer time after dinner might result in better sleep, decrease the need for caffeine, and create a cascading positive effect.

Spring flowers in the Columbia Gorge looking west toward Portland.

Spring flowers in the Columbia Gorge looking west toward Portland.

Hitting inbox-zero feels great, but it’s a Pyrrhic victory since doing so in a hurry often creates more work. There’s no faster way to build giant email chains than a quick email. (Try Cal Newport’s technique to fix this.)

Still, developing an efficient system to deal with email doesn’t address the core question: why are we getting so many emails?

We can be efficient, but at some point there’s too much to handle, or the work itself is mind-numbing. I faced this in 2013 when I received 5,000 emails per month (and sent 2,500). I was efficient, but even using canned (saved) responses and other templates only worked to a degree.

Drilling deep, I saw the source of my unhappiness wasn’t email. Instead, I was completely burned out from working daily with clients who asked for (and deserved) immediate responses. My solution was to hire staff to take over those duties. This lowered my income, but allowed me a more flexible schedule to focus on other things.

I still work daily, but incoming email has dropped to a fraction of the volume. It also isn’t as time-sensitive, so I can deal with it when convenient.

My solution is only one approach. For my industry, I didn’t see another way since automation wasn’t an option. Your situation is probably different, but figuring out the root causes of what makes you unhappy is a powerful place to start.

Tenuous ground on the way to Munra Point.

A day hike in Oregon.

Work unhappiness is only the beginning. We can apply happiness through  subtraction to all aspect of our lives, including friendships, food, and physical workouts that we dread. I hate indoor cycling, but will mountain bike until my legs fall off.

As Leo Babauta of Zen Habits wrote recently, “we fear only one thing really: not having control, certainty, security, comfort.” Cutting away activities that make us unhappy leaves us with fewer stress points. We can’t erase the fear of losing control or security, but blowing away negative chaff in our life gives us more energy to powerfully deal with the headaches that do come up.

The next time you’re feeling overwhelmed or down, don’t add habits to your life. Take to heart the old Swedish proverb: “Fear less, hope more; eat less, chew more; whine less, breathe more; talk less, say more; love more, and all good things will be yours.” What else could we possibly need?

Straddling a narrow ridge near Munra Point in Oregon.

Straddling a narrow ridge near Munra Point in Oregon.

Simple Tools to Help You Focus and Be More Productive

Santa Cruz West Cliffs

It’s one thing to talk about cutting away busyness at a high level, but how we do it in our day-to-day lives? I suggest using simple tools to remove distractions.

This is no easy task. Most of us work on a computer (a.k.a. distraction machine) for large parts of our day and spend entertainment hours in front of glowing screens as well. Whether we’re at work or at home, how can we carve out the space to focus and think deeply?

As Cal Newport writes in Deep Work, “To succeed you have to produce the absolute best stuff you’re capable of producing—a task that requires depth.” Off the grid in a cabin is one method, but not everyone’s work allows that. (Mine doesn’t.) For those of us who must stay connected while maintaining focus and productivity beyond just answering emails, we can use technology to our advantage.

Here are some of my favorite tools or techniques and a brief description of how I use them to stay focused and remove needless distraction. My advice is to sample some of these for a week. If there’s a positive result, try creating a habit the same way you would with exercise or meditation.

Block the ‘Nets: Freedom

Freedom is a great program with one simple function — shutting off your connection to the internet. Simply select the duration and hit Start.

I use this as a formal start to trigger a writing or video editing session. This keeps me from researching minutiae or feeling stuck mid-project, only to end up wandering Internet Land for an hour.

After all, most distractions stem from the online entertainment expanse, a time suck where two hours we slated for a project whirls away down the toilet. Cue up Freedom when you need to sketch a design, write a memo, or perform any concentrated, complex task for an extended period of time.

Freedom

Track Your Time: Toggl

I quoted Derek Sivers in my busyness post: “If you’re busy, you’re out of control.” Well, how do you know what’s devouring your time if you don’t track it? I had no idea until I started tracking my time via Toggl in 15 minute increments about five years ago.

This wound up dropping my hours worked — it’s amazing how a ticking timer keeps me focused. The best part, however, was that I knew where my time was going.

That awareness helped me determine the core efforts that yielded the best results (Pareto Principle again). I started outsourcing and hiring capable people to handle basic tasks (or those I’d mastered and could delegate) so I could focus on my the best use of my skills. Whether you’re an employee, a solo creative, or business owner, tracking your time is a game-changer.

If you think I’m crazy, I got the idea from Jim Collins, the business consultant and best-selling author of Good to Great. He carries a timer with him everywhere he goes. (I assume he doesn’t shower with it!)

Maintain Focus: Momentum

Momentum is a simple, free extension for your internet browser that helps keep your daily priority top of mind whenever you open a new tab. Instead of a list of favorite sites, news or a search bar to drag you into the quicksand of the interwebs, the new tab simply reminds you to keep on task. There’s also a nice picture and quote to make you feel all warm inside.

Momentum

Train Your Brain: Music on Repeat

I picked up this hack from Matt Mullenweg, the founder of Automattic. While I often listen to relaxed music (classical or electronic) when I write or edit video/photos, picking a single song and leaving it on repeat keeps me company while staying more in the background. (The song Shimmer by Tracey Chattaway is my current favorite.)

Shut Out Social Media: Facebook Newsfeed Eradicator

Can’t curb the twitch to scan through Facebook when you’re tired, bored, or cranking hard to solve a problem? This browser extension blocks your feed so you have to search for a friend to see what they’re up to.

I use this off and on, but have found that it helps moderate my desire to be constantly connected. If you aren’t feeling so hard core, try the StayFocused app instead, which limits the time you can spend on various websites.

I also highly recommend deleting all social apps on your phone. Spend the time you’d normally use flipping through Instagram or Facebook to allow your mind to just laze about, read a few pages in a book or even talk to a stranger next to you.

Outsource the Small Stuff: UpWork

Some tasks just aren’t worth doing yourself. Data entry, simple research, basic website coding and other work can siphon off hours of otherwise productive time.

My mindset is always to track my time and identify where I spend it, then see if I can automate a task. If I can’t, I try to outsource to someone who does it faster and better than I can. That could of course be an employee or delegated to a co-worker, but if you’re self-employed than a Upwork or other freelance sites are fantastic.

Sometimes you need help to accomplish that mountain of work.

Sometimes you need help to accomplish that mountain of work. (Mt. Shasta, California)

Keep Track of Passwords: LastPass

Websites are only making password criteria tougher. Six symbols, a number, and your favorite calculus symbol make it tough to remember any of them. Resetting passwords or getting locked out and calling customer service sucks, which is why a password vault is a necessity.

If you aren’t using one yet, my favorite is LastPass. I guarantee it will save you time and keep you on point rather than searching for that password iteration you left on a slip of paper somewhere on your desk.

Task Management: Boomerang/Google Inbox or Evernote

I’ve already written about The Secret Weapon, my organization and task management system for keeping my life on track and in balance. If that seems like too much, try using a simple task list coupled with either Google Inbox or Boomerang, an email plug-in whose features are built into Inbox or can be paired with Gmail.

Inbox and Boomerang allow you to “snooze” emails (i.e. hide them after picking a date for them to reappear). You can also set follow up reminders when you send an email, or schedule an email to send at a particular date/time. With Evernote as my external brain, I no longer use these two, but they are a great gateway to a full-blown task management system if committing to The Secret Weapon is too daunting right now.

This guy obviously has things in balance.

This guy obviously has things in balance.

Automate Your Finances

If you’re anything like me, you hate the process of paying bills. Believe it or not, many people still do it manually, which is why I’m bringing it up.

Take advantage of technology and automate your payments – credit card, utilities, cell phone, car, mortgage, and so on. Go through three months of spending and schedule every single monthly bill. You’ll recoup that initial time investment in a single month, plus not have to worry about when bills are due. Finance guru Ramit Sethi has a comprehensive how-to on all this; his 12-minute video will save you days of your future life.

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Don’t start using all of these at once! My approach is to question why a tool is beneficial before trying it out. Too complex and it will take a lot of time to set up and then be forgotten. Simple is great.

We can accomplish more work, free up leisure time, and decrease stress by cutting out the noise. As the saying goes, focus is more important than intelligence. In our increasingly distracting world, I couldn’t agree more.

When you're done with the work, I recommend hiking someplace like Palouse Falls in Washington.

When you’re done with the work, I recommend hiking somewhere like Palouse Falls in Washington.

How to Escape the Busyness Trap

Santa Cruz west cliffs

Thoreau said it well: “It is not enough to be busy. The question is: what are we busy about?”

We bury ourselves in activities, put our head down, and toil away. Popping up to breathe years later, we look around and wonder where we are. This isn’t the life I wanted!

The new year is a great time to pause and ask ourselves, “do my daily activities support my dreams?”

I know this well because in 2008, I said yes to everything. Meetings. Networking events. Speaking engagements. Newly self-employed, I lacked the skills to turn away low-paying or difficult clients, much less good ones.

Starting out in business, we need the money, so we shoulder any available work. If life is a tree, branches of obligations grow haphazardly, leaves of busyness sprouting from those branches. The trunk, core dreams and goals, can stand forgotten.

It’s logical for us to create systems to maximize productivity and then accept additional clients. The risk is that the calendar dictates our days and we end up swimming relentless laps in an exhausting pool of stress.

For me, it all came to a head in the middle of 2012. I was doing well financially, but the effort consumed my mind. I struggled to stay present. My temptress phone beckoned during “free time” while anxiety gremlins roamed my mind at night.

I was overwhelmed, but a solution slowly evolved. Looking back, I see simple steps can help anyone fend off busyness.

A Santa Cruz sunset.

Walkers enjoy a perfect Santa Cruz sunset.

Acknowledging we’re too busy

It’s hard to realize our own misery. A line from Derek Sivers‘, one of my favorite thinkers, summed up my situation: “If you’re busy, you’re out of control.”

My insightful wife guided me toward making a change; a partner, friend, or coworker may help you as well. Even with her prodding, it took awhile. Like many fundamental changes, the realization hit when the pain of staying outweighed making a change.

The difficult part was deciding which branches to chop from the busy tree.

Questioning the reasons why

It’s tough to escape the momentum of a plan set in motion years earlier. How do we slow things down?

A solution is to focus on asking why we do any action. We meet clients in-person. Why. We go to networking events. Why.

This process helps us identify work that results in wasted effort or tremendous headaches. Time tracking is a powerful way to quantify how we spend our hours. From there, choose the 20% of business that nets 80% of the goal — classic Pareto principle . My personal goal wasn’t just income: free time, lower stress, and revenue were equal tripod legs.

Since we often build success on a Foundation of Yes, this isn’t easy. Even when we can finally afford to say no, turning down an energy-draining client feels like throwing money away. Politely refusing referrals is flipping the bird to years of building connections. It seems wasteful, entitled, and even stupid.

It’s why a famous actor says yes to a movie they know is bad. To paraphrase Kevin Costner, “Who am I to turn away a role other people need so much?”

Yet no is the path to redemption.

Looking north along the coast of Big Sur at Bixby Canyon Bridge.

Looking north along the coast of Big Sur at Bixby Canyon Bridge.

Targeting bloated obligations and responsibilities

Saying no feels awkward at first, but we improve. We finish up tough projects and new work that better fits our wheelhouse fills the void. Building on that success to examine other facets of life like eliminating energy-draining vampires and possessions can further transform our world.

Continually pruning our obligations is an important ongoing action. Do this by focusing on hell yeah activities, those that speak to our core interests. If it isn’t hell yeah, say no. As a bonus, curtailing the chaos leaves more time for deeper, focused efforts that yield richer fruit.

Seeing new opportunities through a mist during a hike in Big Sur.

Redwoods in the mist during a hike in Big Sur.

Filling the space

Once we prune the leaves on the busy tree, new opportunities feel the warm sun and blossom. While I still run my streamlined business, now I also can say hell yeah to flowers of travel and a budding creativity I’d sidelined for years.

This is not an ode to laziness; hard work and perseverance are good for us. Saying yes to crappy jobs in high school trains our muscles – physical and mental – to strain through running a business. Those experiences are integral to our journey. We all need those struggles to better appreciate the fruits of future labors.

YouTube star Casey Neistat nails it when he says “success is measured by the amount of time we don’t spend doing things we hate.” Saying yes to everything results in unintentional busyness. Focus. Lop off a few branches. Take control.

As the year unfolds, ponder new goals and “required” schedule items. Ask why you’re doing them.

Then start saying no.

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P.S. Dig this? You might like the list of tools I use to stay focused.

My friend Reese enjoys a quiet sunset on the west cliffs of Santa Cruz.

My friend Reese enjoys a quiet moment on the west cliffs of Santa Cruz.