F#@$ing Tell Them Already (& Happy Thanksgiving!!!)

Tis’ the season to express thanks, but I’ve got two major pet peeves with how we show gratitude…and a super crazy radical alternative for Thanksgiving!

Pet Peeve #1 – Gratitude Journals

Gratitude journals are all the rage among the new agey jet set – writing down all of the things for which we are (or should be) grateful in order to boost our happiness.  The intention behind gratitude journals is well meaning. When you are feeling out of sorts, depressed, frustrated, whatever, gratitude journals are put forth as a nifty solution to cure your ungrateful soul. Really, the problem is simply that you don’t count your blessings, or is it?

Sure, that might be the case that we often don’t look around and take stock of how lucky we are. However, when we list the things we are grateful for – having a roof over our heads, having a boyfriend/girlfriend, a job that pays the bills (maybe even a job we love), our reputations, the community we live in, etc etc – those things are typically extrinsic. And they are out of our control. And they are impermanent.

Jobs can be lost. Houses destroyed. People leave or die. Sounds depressing, si? Yet, this is life and holding on with gratitude to these things does not necessarily make us any happier. Making lists simply does not change the way we feel on a daily basis (but if it does actually for you, then keep on doing it!).

Keep reading…I promise it will get better.

Pet Peeve #2 – Posthumous Outpouring of Gratitude

I have seen a number of high profile athletes in extreme sports die doing what they loved (like BASE jumper Dean Potter or professional ski mountaineer Liz Daley) or die too young from something else (like the well loved Bela Vadasz, owner of Alpine Skills International, who died far to young of a heart attack).  They are well known and well loved and leave a gap in lives that extend beyond their inner circles.

Social media blows up with well meaning RIPs and well wishes to those left behind. Tribute articles, memorial videos, blog posts, and Facebook posts pop up about how wonderful the person was who has passed, how much that person impacted their lives, and how they wished they could have told them in person.

Seeing the posthumous explosion actually makes me boil over with anger. Writing tributes and making memorial videos does not make them or us any happier.  The person who is gone will never know all of these wonderful things that were said about them.

Honoring the dead IS important – it helps us process our grief and shows respect to the survivors.

However, it’s far more important to honor the living – THAT spreads happiness. One of the only posthumous blog posts I’ve ever really appreciated is one in Adventure Journal – a friend left behind talks about how his behavior has changed to honor the living as a result of his loss.

One Alternative – A New Thanksgiving (or Daily!) Ritual

Try this at your Thanksgiving meal tomorrow. Focus on one person at the table as the receiver of gratitude. Go around and one by one each person tells the gratitude received what they appreciate about them. Each person will have a chance to tell everyone what they appreciate, as well as be appreciated.

Sounds kind of scary, doesn’t it? So wild that telling others what we appreciate is such a personal act of vulnerability. But consider the impact it can have on that loved one…to know what you like about them and how they have impacted you.

Now ponder the opposite…the regret you feel when someone dies, when kind and loving things are left unsaid or you remember the last interaction you had with them was a fight or an unkind word – it is actually far more difficult and painful than being vulnerable with them.

I would pick vulnerability over regret any day, as difficult as it might seem in the moment.  Regret is a real bitch and it can haunt you.

So radical yet so basic. Tell your loved ones and friends why you love them. Don’t wait. Do it on Thanksgiving. Do it now. Do it the next day. Keep doing it.

So put those lists away and start honoring the living. Loving and being loved is the true key to happiness.

Fear, Risk, and Commitment

I pontificate frequently and deeply on risk and fear, but rarely in connection with what should happen on other side of risk and fear – commitment.  I’m a big fan of Mark Nepo, and the reading for today from The Book of Awakening hit me in a particularly profound way when he highlighted the connection between risk and commitment.

“We’d all like a guarantee before making a decision or taking a risk, but the irony is that taking the risk is what opens us to our fate. It’s like wanting to know what things will taste like before putting them in your mouth. It just can’t be figured out that way.

I always seem to be relearning that real commitment comes before I know where anything is going. That’s what listening to your heart is all about. Without jumping off its perch, the bird would never fly. Without jumping out of your heart’s silence, love is never possible. Without asking to be whole, the divine essence waits inside everything the way bread hardens if never bitten into.

For me, as I look back, being a poet came after committing to speak though I had no idea what I needed to say, and the grace of being loved has come into my life after admitting freely that I wanted to love though I wasn’t sure how.

If we devote ourselves to the effort to be real, the Universe in all its forms will find us, the way that wind finds leaves and waves find shore.”

-Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening, November 20, pg 382

I’m a big fan of feeling the fear and doing it anyway. Fear has now become a trusted partner in my life – when I feel it, I pay attention. I sit with it and listen to it. If I determine that its cause is perceived risk, rather than real risk, then I take a deep breath and move through the fear. This helps me take risks that sometimes other people label “crazy,” but in the same breath they’ll state they wish they had the courage to do it to.

However, my approach has been to take the risk and open myself to my fate, as Nepo says. Commitment is an entire new level.

I’ve been writing a book…for several years now. I knew I wanted to write a book summarizing and expanding upon the points and stories in my keynote speech about lessons for life and business from the mountains. Last year, I took the time to hire a writing coach to draft a book outline and get some early stage tips (Linden Gross is awesome by the way).

The outline flowed easily. More than three-quarters of the content has been already written in blog form or articles or I have told the stories time and time again. I find writing pretty enjoyable so I thought it would be EASY to sit down and write/re-write on all my long-haul flights.

Here I am a year later with just a few half-assed chapters written. Yes, time is a problem. I don’t have much time to spare to get in a real book-writing frame of mind, but I made the time to write this blog, didn’t I? Yes, I have fear about writing – the more you put yourself out there in the public, the more you open yourself to judgment. I get tons of positive feedback, but of course, as a human being I tend to obsess on negative personal criticism. However, that hasn’t stopped me from writing or speaking or dancing on the summit of high mountains – all things that can draw attention to oneself.

The answer lies in commitment. I have not committed to being an author. I have not, as Nepo says, “committed to speak though I had no idea what I needed to say.” And to boot, I DO know what I want to say.

If we feel the fear, take the risk, and are simply open to what lies on the other side, we may still find ourselves in the same position. We must not only be comfortable with failure, but equally committed to being successful.

If you feel the fear of telling someone you love them, take the risk and tell them, but then run away from the commitment of exploring that with the other person, then taking the risk was utterly worthless. Commit to standing firm and embrace what rewards the risk can bring you.

At the end of each of Nepo’s daily readings, he has a meditation exercise. The one for today is, after a short sitting meditation to center yourself, “Walk slowly about the room, and with each step, feel commitment in the landing and risk in each lifting.”

I actually did this exercise this morning and worked hard at visualizing the risk with each lifting. I could feel the wavering and wobbling as my foot was in the air, floating in empty space, unsure of exactly how it would land on the ground. And I became acutely aware of the landing of my feet, feeling the contact with the ground…softly at first and then more firmly and grounded as each foot took the weight of my body. I could feel the commitment of moving forward without being completely certain of my direction.

I had my eyes closed and felt like I was moving in slow motion…until I literally hit a wall! If only someone had been there to witness that! I couldn’t believe the distance I had moved when I was focused so intently. I lost sense of space and time and did not feel like I had gone very far.

Hmmmm, perhaps there’s a lesson in that. How far can we go if we are intently aware of every step and every move? This is our lives…every day. We take risks and have faith that we will land, committed to be ready for what’s on the other side.

Stay tuned for updates on the book progress.  🙂

Walk Through That Door

I was blessed to see Alison Wright speak at the Tower Theater here in Bend, OR. Alison is a National Geographic photographer and winner of the Traveler of the Year award.  She is lauded for her cultural and conflict photography around the world and has a most fascinating life story.

As she recounted the decisions she made along the way that culminated into what is by most standards an extraordinary life, I was most struck by her comment, “I walked through every door of opportunity that presented itself.”

AlisonWrightatTower

Alison Wright at the Tower Theater, Bend, OR

Wow! Who can say with true authenticity that they have done that?!?!? And it’s not that she just said “yes” to just any old thing that came her way, it’s that she said “yes” to opportunities that were scary, that were challenging, that may have been downright dangerous, and that she herself may have believed she was not ready for.

But she said “yes,” and walked through each door of amazing opportunity.

And upon reflecting about my own life, I realized I have done the same. Any time an opportunity presented itself – most recently including moving to Bend, buying Call of the Wild, leading trips in far flung places for my own and for other companies – I have also walked through that door.

Fear is a big part of the process. When an opportunity presents itself, I do a gut check with the emotions that the opportunity elicits. Is it a bad feeling – that intuition juju that we all have – despite appearing to be fantastic on the surface? Then the answer is “no.” Is it a gut wrenching soul shattering fear but the objective is aligned with my purpose in life? Then I take a deep breath (maybe more than one!) and say “yes.”

Take a moment to check in with how you have reacted to key opportunities in life. Did you feel the fear and shrink back?

Saying “no” is not the problem – it’s the reasons you may have said “no” and fear is usually the culprit. Fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear that you don’t deserve the success…all are common and all are powerful.

So yeah! I get to pat myself on the back for being good about feeling the fear and setting into opportunities that feel rewarding…but upon further reflection, I know my own weakness and how I’ve held myself back.

The next step beyond simply reacting to things that come our way is to CREATE those opportunities. Man, you must really believe in yourself to have a vision of the success you want and then persevere in pursuing it.

I still sit back sometimes and say, “Why don’t I have more demand for Call of the Wild trips that I know are amazing and well priced? Why don’t I have more people knocking down my door for speaking gigs given the feedback I’ve received?“

The problem is working through all of those fears and commit to pursuing and creating the doors of opportunity that I WANT to walk through.  I fear failure, rejection, and even success, just like many others do.

So wherever you are on your personal journey – reacting to opportunities or creating them – take the time and take your pulse about why you might not be charging forward with more confidence and gusto.

The answer you will often find is the fear that lives deep within you…and if you address those fears and say “yes“, I guarantee you won’t regret it.

A Wilderness Guide Ponders Cicero

Long plane rides allow me the time to expand my mind through reading, but it was recently expanded far more than expected. I came across Cicero’s “Six Mistakes of Man” and I was struck by the relevance of these six simple principles written by the famous Roman orator over 2,000 years ago.

If only humankind today took the time to seriously ponder these six mistakes as they are profound!

Six Mistakes of Man

“The illusion that personal gain is made up of crushing others;

The tendency to worry about things that cannot be changed or corrected;

Insisting that a thing is impossible because we cannot accomplish it;

Refusing to set aside trivial preferences;

Neglecting development and refinement of the mind, and not acquiring the habit of reading and study;

And attempting to compel others to believe and live as we do.”

Being a wilderness guide and adventure travel company owner, I have the privilege of seeing my clients on their best days and their worst days. I’m totally fascinated by individual and group dynamics that play out on our trips…and using the Six Mistakes of (Wo)Man to highlight some of them that can be useful to bring back to our daily lives:

1.  The illusion that personal gain is made up of crushing others – Thankfully, this is rarely an issue on Call of the Wild trips.  Competition is low and support is high on all female trips.  Yet, many in the world believe that one person’s loss is another person’s gain, and their goal is to be the one who gains.  I have even been working with Wild Women, a competitor out of Canada, to collaborate on running trips and sending each other clients wherever possible.  We do this because we believe the market is not finite and we can grow “the pie” by supporting each other.  This kind of collaboration is pretty rare among competitors, but alliances that address customer needs and desires in our market will result in increased business and more happy women across both the United States and Canada!

Where can you focus on growing “the pie” in your life instead of taking what you believe to be your fair share?

2. The tendency to worry about things that cannot be changed or corrected – This may be the most common and most detrimental habit that I witness on my trips. The worrying among many of my female clients can be intense. It seems we are practically trained from birth to be worriers!

They are worried about packing, training, where to go to the bathroom, what the weather will be like, how their bodies will perform, how they will interact with the group, etc etc. These are all valid things to worry about in terms of thinking about them and preparing, i.e., read your packing list thoroughly and check items off as you pack them. However, worrying incessantly can be counterproductive. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people have come before you and survived (and maybe even enjoyed!) the trip you are about to take.  🙂

If you lay awake at night worrying about whether you packed everything, you will be sabotaging precious sleep that is critical for physical performance. Once you have done all of your preparation (read your materials, tested and packed your gear, trained, and arrive for the start of the trip), it’s time to relax and let the trip unfold, much like life.

Most of the time, the things we worry about rarely actually come to fruition. And other things, unexpected things, happen for which we may or may not be prepared. We have to be in a good frame of mind to face these unexpected things and work through them!

What are you worrying about that realistically cannot be changed and corrected?  Would it not be more productive to expend that energy on changing those things that can be changed and letting go of the rest?

3. Insisting that a thing is impossible because we cannot accomplish it – I can’t tell you how many times I have heard women say, “Oh, I can’t do that! I’m too old!” Age is truly but a number. I have MANY clients in their 60s and 70s who take their health and activity seriously and who are disciplined enough to train for our trips which require training. Many have recovered from serious illnesses or injuries.  It makes me so sad to hear a woman in her 30s say, “Maybe if I was active when I was young, now I just don’t have time to get in that kind of shape. It’s too late for me.”

Then I head out hiking with several of my friends in their late 60s and early 70s who have simply made it a priority to stay active for decades. As a result, over half of my clients for Kilimanjaro this year (the highest peak in Africa at 19,340ft) and they are prepared! I held a free training weekend for them in late July and all passed with flying colors, including passing some young people on the trail as we marched on with our slow and steady pace. It’s never too late…truly.

Think about what you want that you currently believe is impossible…is it truly impossible? Or are you unwilling to put in the work to make it possible?

4. Refusing to set aside trivial preferences – Travel is a fantastic way to remind you to let go of trivial preferences. Foreign cultures have all sorts of ways of doing and being that are different, even downright strange, to us. Treading lightly in another country increases your flexibility about customer service, sense of time, even standards around hygiene.

This is one of the best perspective resetting aspects of adventure travel for me. So much is out of our control and we must be flexible and go with the flow of the new culture. I have to sit back and feel this flow, letting go my own preferences and for a short period of time, adopting the preferences of another people. Sometimes I’m not the biggest fan of other ways of life and it causes me to develop a greater appreciation for the way I live at home, but other times, I realize that my preferences may truly be inferior…
I was recently irritated by a mountain hut owner closing their doors at prime lunch time when my group was wanting some hot drinks on the trail. I took a pause and shifted my view of their decision- perhaps we really should shut down our establishments to have a dedicated mealtime with friends, family or employees. Isn’t that important, too?

What are you holding on to that in the grand scheme of things really doesn’t matter? Is fighting for your trivial preference really worth conflict or unhappiness (both your own and that of others)?

5. Neglecting development and refinement of the mind, and not acquiring the habit of reading and study – The world has yet to bore me. The varied flora, fauna, weather patterns, geology, cultures, languages, religions around the planet are never ending and several lifetimes of dedicated study would be grossly insufficient.

Travel provides me the opportunity and the motivation to learn more about all of these things. I believe that this keeps my mind supple and engaged. I have been working hard on my Swahili to prepare for the next 5 weeks in Tanzania and Kenya and I know that my Amharic language materials have already arrived in my absence. No sooner than this trip is over will I begin to work on my likely most difficult language yet, this most spoken language of Ethiopia.
Keeping your mind engaged and active has many benefits beyond just being a more interesting person!  Studies have even shown that activities that keep your mind challenged (like languages, reading, puzzles) can even stave off the onset of diseases such as Alzheimers.

Find something that inspires and challenges you and never stop learning!

6. And attempting to compel others to believe and live as we do – Who is to say that “we” are right? I know I have been wrong before and will likely be wrong again in the future. To live with such conviction that our way is the only seems quite radical! As you travel around the world, the way in which people live is so varied, you begin to realize there is no right way. There are far to many ways to live, to believe, to love!

At the same time, there is deep universality in the experience of joy and sadness, of love and grief, of loyalty and betrayal, that you begin to realize the only, but powerful, common factor is that of being human…not the right or wrong way to live and believe. We must each find our way and give those we love the space to find their own way.

The next time you feel yourself becoming judgmental about another’s “way,” take a deep breath and recognize their right to find their own path.  You cannot compel another adult to live as you do unless against their will.

From 2,000 years in the future, I send my sincere gratitude to Cicero!  What do you think of Cicero’s Six Mistakes of Man?

Never Stop Moving!

Call of the Wild Adventures tends to attract older clients than many expect.  It’s not the hard charging youthful women in their 20s and 30s – they are often too independent to use guided services, have career and/or family obligations, and are still on a budget.  The majority of our clients are roughly 45-65 with a decent chunk of superstars in their 70s.

I was so amazed by these women who were almost twice my age but who could out hike me if I let them run wild (I always manage my trips to a group pace to maximize the potential for everyone’s enjoyment and success).  I couldn’t help myself and with sincere interest and naiveté, kept asking the same question over and over expecting a different answer, a new angle, some special secret…but the answer was always the same.

NEVER STOP MOVING!

These women are not extreme athletes.  None are ex-Olympians.  Few are marathoners or triathletes.  All hike and workout regularly, often every day.  They garden, ski, cycle, walk, backpack…I could go on.  They take active vacations.  They eat healthily but don’t deprive themselves of a treat from time to time.

One such woman is my dear friend, Louise.  Louise finished the entire SPS list of 247 major peaks in the Sierra Nevada of California on her 70th birthday.  She and I climbed Mt Thielsen in Oregon last October which involved 10 miles roundtrip, 3,000ft elevation gain, and a 4th class rock climb ~100ft to the summit.  She’s coming with me on a Call of the Wild trip to climb Mt Kilimanjaro in Tanzania at 19.3kft. Afterwards just she and I are heading north to Kenya to give Mt Kenya a go.

Louise is one of the most active people I know, young or old.  She struggles with some knee issues but wears a knee brace and has a medical routine to control her pain.  She does not let it stop her!

MC, 54, and Louise, 73 at the time, on the summit of Mt Thielsen in OR

MC, 54, and Louise, 73 at the time, on the summit of Mt Thielsen in OR

Contrast Louise to the average 50yo I bump into who says, “Oh, I could NEVER do THAT!  I’m too <insert adjective here – fat, old, slow, unfit, afraid>.”  It makes me so sad that they have 25+ years of activity left that they won’t take advantage of.

I was further reminded of the power of moving last week when I was completing a full circumambulation of the Three Sisters mountains here in Central Oregon.  It was an amazing trip – 51 miles in 5 days with a wonderful new partner, Kristie around three beautiful Cascades volcanoes.

The weather was glorious, the views were astounding, and we saw no one on the trails.  That is until we bumped into Greg, a 77 yo old man backpacking with his daughter and son-in-law.  He let us pass and we could barely keep a pace to stay out in front of his group.  He was a lifelong hiker and backpacker.

I didn’t ask Greg what his secret was because I now knew the answer…NEVER STOP MOVING!

I was ruminating on this blog post about the power of movement as the fountain of youth, and within 24 hours I bumped into two more examples.  I was killing time before a doctor appt at one of my favorite places to borrow wifi, the tasting room at Humm Kombucha.  I couldn’t help but overhear one of these gentlemen say, “Now that I’m 70…”  My ears perked up and I took a second look.  The fellow on the left, Jack, doesn’t look a day over 50 (he was the 70yo) and his buddy, Gary, doesn’t look over 60 (but he was 69).  They both said they stay active daily and “Uncle Gary,” who has done yoga daily for 20 years and is blissfully married, proceeded to tell me his 3 secrets to staying young:

1. Stay social and get outside

2. Maintain a strong love of life

3. Don’t eat any cow products

Sounds like pretty solid advice to me…although I do love my cheese…

Jack and Uncle Gary at Humm Kombucha in Bend, OR

Jack and Uncle Gary at Humm Kombucha in Bend, OR

I came home with my outline in mind and saw that my Warrior Mind Coach, Gregg Swanson, posted an article on Facebook from Psychology Today.  The topic?  The one word answer to adding years to your life…MOVE!

Talk about serendipity!  The article provided more support for my anecdotal evidence:

There are many theories. First, let’s consider the Standard Model:
1. People who move around more have lower blood pressure.
2. If you move more, you make your arteries more elastic and less prone to plaque.
3. Greater physical activity makes you stronger, allowing you to avoid accidents, falls and physical debilities.

 

Next there’s the Regeneration Health Model:
1. The body is an information system. Physical activity provides a much greater load of information to the body than virtually anything done sitting still. If you walk outside, your immune system must respond to thousands of different—and mutating—bacteria, viruses, fungi and other organisms. It must counter many different chemicals and pollutants. Updating on the fly makes the system more resilient, and effectively smarter.
2. Moving in three-dimensional space is itself a tremendous stimulus to the body and brain, which must coordinate cognitive, sensory, muscle, connective, and skin tissue activity in real time. Just consider what your eyes and ears have to do in conjunction with immunity to keep your body aware—and alive. The biological rule is simple: Learn continuously, or die. The end result is growing more brain cells in memory regions, plus making the brain and body more resilient.
3. Physical activity improves mood, which allows people to remain engaged physically and mentally, and makes it easier and more reinforcing to stay active in all spheres.
4. Physical activity causes the heart and blood vessels to be stressed, causing more and sometimes quicker regeneration of tissue. Most of the heart, for example, is replaced in three days time, and more of it will be replaced from the greater use and material demands of physical activity. Many organs are more efficiently regenerated in activity than when left in a resting state. As a counter-example, sitting is increasingly recognized as an important risk factor to overall mortality.
5. Moving improves the ability to sleep and rest, increasing regenerative capacity overall. Walk in the morning, sleep better at night.
6. Moving causes frequent and ubiquitous hormonal shifts, including increased insulin sensitivity. The latter may help with greater energy efficiency throughout the body, as well as prevent build up of fat surrounding abdominal organs, now recognized as a hormonal gland in and of itself.
7. Increased physical activity leads to more engagement with the environment. That improves learning and can augment the ability to connect with others along the way. Notably, heart attack risk goes down 30-50 percent in British housing estates where people have greater access to green space—letting them move around and meet each other.

 

Source: “The Simple, One-Word Secret for Adding Years to Your Life.” Psychology Today, May 28, 2015.

I don’t need any more convincing!  Packing my car right now to go climb Mt Hood tonight…how are you going to get out and move today?  And tomorrow?  And the next day?

It’s never too late to NEVER STOP MOVING!!!

Can You Sit With Your Fear?

So many of us run kicking and screaming away from fear. We feel it, it freaks us out, and we turn away to go right back to doing whatever it was that was safe and secure, or stay with whomever it was that makes us feel comfortable.

Mountaineering and, even more so now, entrepreneurship has forced me to face my fears head on. And I’ve realized it’s a quality that is not recognized or lauded as much as being “fearless” – giving the impression of having no fear at all.  Being fearless is the AMAZING quality that’s highlighted again and again as valued above so much else in our culture.

Obviously, I’m not advocating running toward an avalanche, jumping out of a plane without a parachute or leaving a perfectly good job without some sort of plan…but if you think about the potential reward, could it just maybe be worth it to face your fear?

Can you sit with fear? Feel it in your bones? Let it give you goose bumps? What if you really examined your fear instead of running away from it?

My biggest fear is financial insecurity. Hands down. I don’t come from money, have very little living family, and have been self-sufficient since the age of 17. I am far more afraid of being broke than I am of anything I face in the mountains or in the spotlight.

The margins in the adventure travel business are low and the business challenges are high (permits, staffing, natural disasters, government shutdowns, etc), and I have not yet been able to pay myself a salary for running the company. The financials are on steep upward trajectory which is great, but there are still bills from the last 3 years to be paid.  My biggest and best option is selling my home which has appreciated since I bought in May 2012 and cashing out the equity.

I have been ruminating on this for MONTHS. Just tossing and turning and flipping the idea over and over. I could not come to a decision because it felt like giving up on part of my dream of creating the lifestyle I envisioned here in Bend.

However, I had an illuminating conversation with my friend, Kevin, when I was telling him about all of my big dreams and goals for 2016 – giving a TedX talk, scouting Ethiopia for Call of the Wild, climbing Mt Noshaq in Afghanistan with local women, and climbing Everest. Selling the house could help me keep the business dream alive and accomplish ALL of those things.

Then Kevin innocently asked me one key question, “What’s holding you back?” I only had a one word answer for him, “Fear.”

Fear of becoming homeless and a ‘bag lady.’ 

 Fear of never being able to qualify for a home loan again. 

 Fear of not knowing where I’ll be living in a month or two. 

 Fear of giving up on my dream vision. 

 Fear of feeling like a failure because I could not get COTWA profitable enough to sustain me financially. 

 Earth shattering, soul quaking fears for me.

But once I uttered that word, “Fear,” as my response, it made me realize that that was a completely bullshit reason for holding myself back from the potential reward on the other side of facing my fear. It became so blazingly obvious what I needed to do.

The wheels are now in motion.  The house is going up on the market. I’m making some last minute improvements and the roofers are banging on the ceiling as I type.

What could you potentially be accomplishing if you sat with your fear and REALLY examined it???

The Power of Dreams

I have never cried so much on a trip before.  Every time I summited one of the three high peaks in the Rwenzoris range, aka the Mountains of the Moon, I was completely overcome by emotion, welling up inside so that I could not speak and had to take a moment to compose myself, lest others see.  

Climbing Mt Stanley, Mt Speke, and Mt Baker was literally a dream come true.  Most will scratch their heads.  Where are the Rwenzoris (and how do you even pronounce that)?  Why were you compelled to go there of all places?  Why can’t you stop adventuring and just sit still for a while?

A region so unknown, I could only find 3 maps available out of the UK

A region so unknown, I could only find 3 maps available out of the UK

I first heard about the Rwenzoris back in 2005, 10 years ago!  I was just getting into climbing and picked the brain of a local woman, Alison Levine, about mountaineering.  In addition to being a mountaineer and professional speaker, Alison also founded a non-profit called Climb High Foundation that trains women in Uganda to be guides and porters.  That mountain range was called the Rwenzoris.  I then heard my mountaineering role model, Arlene Blum, mention the Rwenzoris in one of her talks at REI Mountain View.  Finally, my amazing sports podiatrist’s wife, Debbie, mentioned that out of all the things they have done (and they have done a lot – things like the Marathon des Sables, Ecoquest, climbed Aconcagua, etc etc), the Rwenzoris were the most beautiful they had ever seen.  All roads lead to the Rwenzoris…

The Rwenzoris also just so happen to have 3 peaks at or above 16k ft high – Mt Stanley at 16,763ft, Mt Speke at 16,137ft, and Mt Baker at 15,988ft.  My passion is high altitude climbing, so this put the Rwenzoris at the top of my list despite the time/expense to get there.

I obsessed about the Rwenzoris nearly every year, this mountain range almost no one else had ever heard of, researching/plotting/planning until the perfect storm of opportunity arose…

Celebrating 40

For some reason, turning 40 hit me particularly hard and I still can’t quite put my finger on it.  It’s not just checking a new box for the age bracket categories.  It’s not that I suddenly looked or felt older from my last day as 39 or my first day as 40.  My clients, most of whom are older than me, call me things like “kiddo” which is kind of annoying, but I also secretly love.  I think it was more the disparity between the perception of someone in their 40s being mature and responsible and how I feel.  I still feel SO young inside – there is so much to learn about the world and people, so many places to explore, so much inner growth to pursue – that mature feels like a ridiculous word to embrace at this stage.

I turned 40 on a particularly challenging Call of the Wild trip in Italy – the hikes and the terrain were not what was particularly challenging (especially because gelato and espresso were inserted between hiking segments!).  It was the first time ever that I did not personally gel with a group (that’s the diplomatic way to put it).  I never mentioned my milestone birthday because I believed most of the clients would feel like it detracted from their vacation and high expectations.  The rest of the summer rushed by as I ran like a chicken with her head cut off from one trip to another.  Something inside me felt empty for not taking a moment to celebrate. 

I sat with this for months trying to decide what I could do that felt worth to me as a great celebration.  I noodled and I brainstormed.  I foolishly asked for feedback on Facebook for ideas (to which I got the response, “But didn’t you get to go to Italy for your birthday?” and “How about going wine tasting?”).  Only Linda Sun mentioned climbing BIG peaks…exactly what I had in mind but how?  The finances are tight since everything I have goes into the business and I didn’t have the staff support yet to truly leave and be out of touch for any period of time.    

But if I set constraints aside, the objective that met all my criteria to be worthy of a 40th celebration???  The Rwenzoris.

My Mother

My mother passed away when I was 12 and she was 40.  After decades of never discussing my mother or her death with those who raised me, I always had a deeply buried sadness about growing up motherless, but I felt like she loved us until the end.   I only learned 2 years ago, accidentally from an extended family member, that she committed suicide.  This kind of information hits you hard, even as an adult.  Suddenly I felt abandoned all over again.  I will never understand why she did it – what depths of despair and hopelessness that she experienced.  Every day and every year I now live will be longer than she did.  It’s in her memory that I am dedicated to living an epic life worth living.  One that is full of vitality and happiness and pain and disappointment – whatever comes my way from the choices I make.

Me and Mom

Turning 2 years old

 

This is why I feel an increased responsibility not to waste the precious time that I have on this planet. I have the opportunity to, hopefully, double her life experience if I live until 80…but anything can happen any day.  On the journey back home, a passenger died on the flight that Eszter and Chris were on.  We don’t have details about what happened, but essentially one moment a fellow was coming or going to a faraway destination, and he never woke up.  No one wants to die, and few get to chose how they go, but I am dedicated to make the most of the time I have.  Exploring a remote mountain range on the border of Uganda and the Congo sounded like a fantastic way to spend my time!

Making My Own Dreams a Priority

Many regularly express envy of my lifestyle – with good intentions, they say I am “living the dream” and wish they could do it, too.  Not only do they not see the sacrifices I have made to leave the corporate world and try to make this combination of vocation and passion work, they are truly not interested. It’s easier and more fun to put someone on a pedestal than feign interest in the reality – the reality behind running any small business regardless how sexy the product is.   

I won’t go on and on about those sacrifices (I’ve been told I’ll hear the smallest violin in the world playing), but the last 3 years I have been dedicated financially, physically, and spiritually to helping others dreams come while putting my own on hold.

“There is an ecstasy that marks the summit of life, and beyond which life cannot rise. And such is the paradox of living, this ecstasy comes when one is most alive, and it comes as a complete forgetfulness that one is alive.”

-Jack London, The Call of the Wild

My personal dream is to climb – to have enough time and financial security to be able to take off a couple of times a year to do something BIG.  I’ve been cranky and pent up and downright bitchy at times focusing exclusively on others.  Climbing the three high peaks of Uganda was the realization of a nearly 10 year dream in the making – the perspective resetting impact of this trip is difficult to put into words.  Making my own dreams come true simply must be as important and making others’ dreams come true, too.

For me, climbing is to love, to live, even to forget and release.  It’s the purest celebration of life that I know – my own life and those who have gone before me.  To climb is to be whole, and I am feeling whole again…thanks to the Rwenzoris!