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My Lowas

26 Aug

My Lowas

“The most alive is the wildest.” – HDT

After eight years, six continents, and hundreds and hundreds of miles, my hiking boots finally gave up the ghost.

The death of my Lowas was a little like losing a close friend. We’ve had so many memorable adventures. We hiked the Inca Trail, stalked lions in Botswana, tiptoed knife-edge ridge lines in Hawaii, walked on the Zuidersee Works, traipsed through Australia, climbed mountains in Korea, dangled off the south rim of Big Bend at sunset, almost died in a freak summer storm in the Alps, and tread dozens of wild places across the United States.

Thinking back fondly on these expeditions and the people I shared them with allows me to relive those experiences in my mind: the secret bottle of cabernet stashed in the bottom of my pack, picking fruit off the tree for a meal, catching salmon by the boatload, the lone little goat with a bell around its neck encountered high up on a ridgeline, finally making it to the summit, and too many amazing sunsets to count. There were laughs and tears as well: trying to start a fire with no matches, running out of water, a curious skunk, a cocktail party in the African bush, a collapsed tent or two, being charged by a Kodiak bear, rain, wind, snow, more than a few bumps, bruises and blisters, and one severely broken ankle.

My old Lowas took me to the wild places. They were my passport to nature and took me away from the over-civilized people that populate my day-to-day life. My boots took me to the mountains where I drew my strength and satisfied myself that there was meaning to be found in the woods. Who can look at wonderful nature and not be prompted to wonder more? There are answers on the mountaintop.

My grief will abate. I’ve already begun to get to know a new pair of Lowa hikers. The relationship is still stiff and uncomfortable, but I am committed to making it work. Over time, I expect the bond to grow and for our relationship to become easy and supple. There is no telling what adventures await us just over that yonder hill. There are many, many more miles to go.

 

A timely quote for you to consider. It’s as if he were right here with us today.

“Short-sighted men, who in their greed and selfishness will, if permitted, rob our country of half its charm by their reckless extermination of all useful and beautiful wild things.” – Teddy Roosevelt

Live Large Takes Kauai

13 Aug

IMG_8771“A life-changing week of experiences.”

“Pushing me outside my comfort zone.”

“Getting to know amazing new friends.”

This is what I heard from the incredibly impressive group of intrepid explorers that joined me in Kauai for a week of adventure. A Live Large trip to Hawaii is a little different than your typical tropical beach vacation. We journeyed beyond the edges way out in nature.

IMG_8900The experience left me both exhausted and exhilarated (and a little sore.) The week was action packed including spending the day on a secluded beach with a beautiful fresh water waterfall, enjoying an amazing variety of local cuisine (including poi and mass quantities of poke and pina coladas), learning to do the hukilau hula at a luau, climbing mountains, swimming in a queen’s bath, and picking fruit, flowers and avocados right off the trees in the yard.

IMG_9154We even got to go surfing with a pro and everyone in the group caught on easily. There is no risk that any of us are going to be asked to star in a sequel to Blue Crush, but we all now understand what it means to feel “stoked.” The surfing high lasted all afternoon.

The highlight of the trip was a three-day backpacking and camping excursion into one of the remote uninhabited valleys on the Na Pali coast. Some members of the team spent weeks dreading the eleven-mile hike along a treacherous trail that hugs the coast with 800-foot drop-offs. For those with a fear of heights, this was the “pushing way outside the comfort zone” part of the trip. The 4,000 feet of total elevation gain made the trek arduous but the reward was something out of a fantastic dream.IMG_9658

The Kalalau Valley was settled by Hawaiians close to 1,000 years ago and was finally abandoned in the late nineteenth century. The evidence of this early civilization remains in the form of terraces, heiaus (ancient Hawaiian places of worship), and fruit trees.

IMG_9542We hiked all over the valley, tried an old swing we found tied high up in a tree, played and showered in waterfalls, explored sea caves, ate exotic fruit off the trees, practiced yoga on a heiau at dusk, watched one of the most unbelievable sunsets of our lives, and learned a lot about the island, its history and its culture. We also learned a lot about each other.IMG_9626

It was a magical few days I will never forget with a group of people that I am proud to call new friends – my growing Live Large family. The hike out of the valley was tough, but our packs were lighter and we had a bottle of homemade passion fruit champagne waiting for us at the end of the trail.

It has been a couple of weeks now and the valley is still tugging at my subconscious – calling me back. Kalalau is a spiritual place with a powerful force. You cannot truly experience it without being affected in some way.

The Live Large Manifesto encourages us to “say yes and go.” I am so glad that I did. My time on island with this group is a true highlight of my life. We did it right and we can’t wait to do it again. This is a life experience worthy of a place in anyone’s collection.IMG_9734

 

My Log Book

8 Aug

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I have been SCUBA diving for over 25 years. Destinations have included The Great Barrier Reef in Australia, the Greek Isles, Hawaii, California, Florida, a mine in Missouri, and every divable spot in Mexico and the Caribbean. There were times over that period when I was very active and times when life got in the way and I was only able to get in one trip a year. Regardless, I have been religious about keeping a log of every one of my several hundred dives. It is my personal SCUBA history book.

In the early years I wrote about the things I saw. The book is littered with the words ray, shark, turtle, eel, and every manner of reef fish large and small. The sharks were identified by species; nurse, bull, lemon, whitetip, blacktip, hammerhead, and tiger (no great whites yet). I once saw a turtle as big as a VW bug.

When my son and daughter took up the sport about eight years ago, I continued to log our dives together and the frequency of them increased dramatically. Diving became a family affair. I loved getting them alone on a surface interval to chat about the things we saw on our first dive and talk excitedly about what we might encounter next.

Soon after we began diving together the entries in my log book began to change. I still noted the special things we had seen, but there was much more written about the people we were with. The entries were now about new friends made on trips; kind souls that emailed photos from their fancy underwater cameras; interesting folks with good stories; and friends that I have introduced to life under the sea. The memories made on these trips are less about morays and mantas, and more about friends and family.

As I peruse the log book entries from our new second home at Royal Belize I find precious reminders of the people I love the most.

A Fish Story

18 Aug

 

A fox walking on the beach had drawn him out of the cabin into the gray, pre-dawn light. The fire had gone out during the night, but the cabin was warm compared with the chill of the morning. He grabbed at his coat and hugged himself to suppress a shiver in what he thought was silence.

Slowly he became aware of the faint sound of water falling off the mountain a mile across the bay. As his ears were straining to hear the cascade, a whale breached with a whoosh and a spray of water. Then the resident seal splashed at the end of the spit, a gull cried, and a salmon jumped, as salmon do, for reasons known only to salmon. This was not silence; it was a natural symphony played just for him.

The boy and the old man were still asleep in the cabin. The adrenaline from yesterday’s encounter with the bear had worn off leaving the man with a slightly hung-over feeling. He was not hooked on danger as some people said. He was simply a collector of life experiences and the more exciting the better.

The bear had popped out of the brush thirty feet from where they were fishing and challenged their right to extract fish from the stream. The ensuing war of wills, strong words, and a few thrown rocks had convinced the bear to find another fishing spot. The man was triumphant and the boy was exhilarated, but the old man did not like that kind of excitement.

Today was a new day. The stunning natural beauty of the place was worth the pain and suffering and potential bear attacks. Today he would teach the boy how to fill a freezer, how to cast and how to set a hook, how to keep a tight line, how to talk among men, how to casually handle discomfort, and how to make it all look easy. It was also a day for him to show the old man that real life is not lived in the living room. No one ever complains of cold, or rain, or sea sickness, or sore muscles, or wet socks when they are reeling in a monster. The rush of emotion when a big fish strikes is indescribable.

The man snapped to when he realized that the sun was coming up over the water. He said a soft goodbye to the seal and set off to continue the boy’s unfinished education in adventurous living. He wanted to make sure that his son was conscious of his choices. You rarely encounter bears or land a fish that weighs more than you do while sitting in an easy chair. Neither of them was ever going to get old.

Van Horn, Texas

23 Apr

Running virtually across the state of Texas is once again proving to be a challenge. With working, adventuring and recovering from the injuries sustained while adventuring, I am having a hard time getting in the miles and am pretty far behind schedule in both running and writing. A few weeks back I blew through Van Horn, population 1,907 and falling fast. I suspect that a fair percentage of the “locals” are in the federal witness protection program. This little community is 140 long miles from the state’s western border outside of El Paso.

The town is not named for U.S. Army Major Jefferson Van Horne who passed through the area in 1849 on his way to taking command of Fort Bliss. It is, instead, named for Lt. James Judson Van Horn who ten years later commanded an army garrison near some local springs that were strategic in this desert environment. Lt. Van Horn’s post was seized by Confederate forces in 1861 and he was taken prisoner. I guess that neither rank nor military success are requirements for having a town named after you in far west Texas.

The world might little note what goes on in Van Horn if not for two interesting developments. The first is that Jeff Bezos, of Amazon.com fame, bought 290,000 acres of land north of town as a launch site for his space tourism business, Blue Origin. The company is working to lower the cost of space flight so that we can all go. They actually have local job openings posted on their website. Pretty innovative stuff.

The second bunch of crazies working in Van Horn is a group of scientists from the Long Now Foundation. The foundation provides a counterpoint to today’s accelerating culture and helps make long-term thinking more common. They hope to creatively foster responsibility in the framework of the next ten millennia. The group is building a 10,000 year clock deep inside a mountain outside of Van Horn. This is an implicit statement of optimism about the fate of civilization. They are building the clock just so that you will ask why they are building the clock.

Admittedly, Van Horn doesn’t look like much on the surface, but there is some strange stuff going on out here where no one seems to be paying attention. Next stop on the journey is Balmorhea for some underwater meditation in the middle of the desert.

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