Topa Topa Is My Everest

topa topa ridge

Lesson to be learned – one shouldn’t go from zero adventure to 8 on the strenuous meter in a single day. I’ve always wanted to hike to the top of the TopaTopa bluffs because, you know, they are there. So when Jeff put out the invite and said the trail was 10 miles (which I interpreted as roundtrip, not each way) I jumped at the chance.

Really I knew better, having read the write-up on Homer’s Travels.

The hike in was 6.8 miles with a 1735 ft. gain in elevation. There was rain and I couldn’t remember if my pack had a rainfly so I used my anorak to guard the pack and got soaked to the skin. We camped by some boulders at Chief Peak. We had more rain, freezing wind and our tents were iced.

There were snow flurries in the morning but the rest of the day was clear. 16.7 miles, 2014 ft. ascent, 3573 ft. descent. Got to the point where the smallest incline had me gasping for breath – like Hillary near the peak of Everest. And near the peak is as close as I got, lagging behind Jeff and Kevin who summited.

The hike back was a death march. Not sure how I made it. Feet were ground skinless by my overly stiff Vasque boots.

I wouldn’t do it again for the world – not without being in better shape. But it was worth doing this once.

How to Survive When You Are Lost

by Caleb George Morris via Unsplash.com

At the beginning of the year I set an objective – post on this blog once a day for a month. Somewhere along the way I got lost. For one thing, my focus for this blog was supposed to “adventure big and small.” But my life has increasingly become all about sitting at a desk punching numbers into tiny boxes.

In short, I’ve gotten lost.

So what are some key strategies for getting un-lost?

1. Decide that you are not lost. This is probably my favorite. You know exactly where you are – you’re right here. It’s everything else that’s gotten lost. Maybe you didn’t need it anyhow.

2. A CLEAR HEAD WILL FIND ITSELF This zen-like wisdom comes from the US Forestry Department, circa 1946. Stop, think, find shelter, build a fire if possible. (I’d be very, very, very careful about that last one – especially in Southern California.)

This also works when you are metaphorically lost, which is why I started keeping a “done list” recently.

3. Build a pilar of 32-64 blocks, put torches on the top. This advice from the Minecraft forum about what to do when you get lost in the nether has some application to real life. Always keep track of waypoints or landmarks. Or as a friend once told me, every so often take a look at where you’ve been because it will look different heading back. Lost people wander in circles it turns out. Circling is a good strategy for keeping you close to home, a bad one for getting un-lost.

4. Think like a 3-year old. Basically this advice gleaned from the three day survival ordeal of a toddler boils down to “find a clean dry place and take a nap.”

5. Always leave a note. Most of the above advice about surviving when lost presumes that others will come looking for you. The basic calculation is Likelihood You Can Avoid Wandering in Circles x Likelihood Others Will Find You = Found. My wife always asks where I’m going so she’ll know where to find the body.

[Photo by Caleb George Morris via Unsplash.com]

Why You Should Never Set Priorities

Every time I open my “Big Box of Stuff” – my instant organiztion system that involves sweeping everything under the rug and declare all problems solved – my head starts spinning with the urgency and cataclysmic busy-ness of everything.

I’m fighting the urge to drag everything out and prioritize it.

But not so fast – the danger of setting priorities is that you set yourself up for endless twiddling.

Also, it turns out that juggling too many priorities takes a huge toll on overall success.

Did I Just Get a Message from God?

roadmap to my future?

I walked into my office this morning to find my Master Plan to Rule the World peeling off my thinkboard.

Oddly enough my “roadmap” for managing the family trust fund (which btw was taped on top of the Master Plan) was still on the thinkboard. Is this God’s way of telling me to stay focused on the roadmap?

Like Jesus on Toast

How much attention should we pay to random, yet seemingly meaningful happenings? Maybe such events are just Jesus on toast.

Or maybe something deeper is afoot. If a random pattern is indistinguishable from a picture of a face, then how are we to say that it is not, in fact, a picture of a face. Likewise if a fortune cookie or a supermarket horoscope is accidentally meaningful, then how can we say it has no meaning?

I guess the only way to know for sure is to butter the toast and bite.

My Next Adventure: A Second Rate Scanner and a Big Box of Stuff

big pile of junk

Now that I'm managing my mother's affairs I've multiplied the amount of chaos in my life by a factor of…I don't know. Eleventy? Documents, certificates, memorabilia, news clippings, scrawled notes. How to make sense of it all?

First off, I'm sweeping everything up into one ginormous conceptual box.

Boom. I'm organized.

Next, as I unpack the box I want to create meaning. I don't want the next six months – or however long this project takes – to be just about shoveling paper.

Finally, I want to pass along what I learn. This is where the scanner comes in. Digitized information is easier to share.

If anything I've said so far strikes your gong, here are some resources you might want to check:

-To organize your life, first examine your self

NeatDesk or ScanSnap? I Should Have Spent the Extra $50 and Bought the Ugly Scanner

NeatDesk vs Fujitsu

I admit that I bought a NeatDesk scanner instead of the Fujitsu ScanSnap because the NeatDesk is a joy to the eyes and the ScanSnap looks like a discarded toner cartridge.

But after listening to David Sparks and Katie Floyd rattle on about the Fujitsu iX500 as they do, I’m wondering if I made the best choice.

I’ve got two gripes with the NeatDesk. First, it jams too easily. I sometimes have to do a little ninja-origami to get the paper go through the first time. But I’m also concerned about the software. It works well enough but I worry about shoveling all my documents into a system that could vanish at any time.

Deal With It

OK. Well, this is the scanner that I have. And maybe it’s not so bad.

NeatDesk Hacks

Feeding odd sized paper into your NeatDesk

Scan to Dropbox with NeatDesk

Scan to Evernote with NeatDesk

Change the location where NeatDesk stores your data

Everything You Need to Know about Success Is in the Hunger Games

target

What does it take to become a huge success? Apparently it takes a whole lot of work – and not just any kind of work, but the tough work of self-examination. To put a finer point on it, it takes something called Double Loop Learning.

Most of us probably think of the path to success in the terms of “try, try again.” Think of an archer facing a target, shooting, falling short of the bulls-eye, making an adjustment and shooting again. This is what Chris Argyris identified “single loop learning,” a simple servomechanism approach to fixing what ain’t working.

The second loop adds a lot of complexity. Here you must explore your values, assumptions and your blind spots.

This is where The Hunger Games comes in. If heroine Katniss approached the gladiator-style teen-on-teen combat using single loop learning she would have used a pretty simple decision block:

IS PEETA DEAD? –> NO –> KILL PEETA

Fortunately Katniss goes for the double loop. The assumption behind the Hunger Games is that only one combatant could emerge as the winner. But if you have to sacrifice your core values to survive, are you really a winner? Maybe there are no winners. Or maybe the State is the only winner. Read the book, it will all make more sense.

And if you want to get ahead, go back and question everything.

[Via Swiss Miss]

Anxious? Why “Stay Calm” Might Be the Worst Thing to Tell Yourself

Anxious woman bites nails

What’s your go-to move when you feel yourself on the verge of a freak-out? Telling yourself to take a deep breath and chill out might be exactly the wrong strategy. PysBlog reports on research by Alison Woods Brooks that suggests that hitting the emotional gas pedal might get you into the clear. Subjects who told themselves “I’m feeling excited” out-performed those who told themselves to “calm down” when faced with anxiety over public speaking.

I don’t know why this would work, I don’t have the $12 to download Brooks’ report. A barely educated guess is that anxiety bathes your neurosystem with cortisol, the “fight or flight” stress hormone that makes you cramp up and totally choke when you step up to a podium. And guess what hormone is also responsible for the rush that comes when you’re totally stoked, bungee jumping or riding down a steep hill on your fixie? Yep, it’s cortisol.

What differentiates cold-sweating fear and jubilation? Seems like the physiology might be the same – it’s how you interpret what’s happening that makes the difference.

[Photo via MaxwellGS]

Merlin Mann Reinvents Reinvention

Thomas Edison's rubber lab

Maybe you’ve been downsized or maybe you just told your boss to “take this job and shove it,” but in any case you’re ready to change careers. If that’s the case, you owe it to yourself to listen to the Technical Difficulties podcast 057 – Reinventing Yourself. Special guest Merlin Mann, man of a thousand career changes, says right off the bat “I don’t think I ever decided anything. I just sort of realized what I was already doing.”

When it comes to thinking about your career Mann’s distinction between nouns and verbs will blow your mind. And if you like the podcast, be sure to spend some time with the show notes which might not help you get anywhere with your life but are just freakin’ awesome.

[Photo: Thomas Edison's lab via Smithsonian]

Reinventing Yourself for 2014 – Will It Be As Don Draper or a Terrorist?

draperbrody

There’s a little bit of Jay Gatsby in each of us. To live in America is to be surrounded on all sides by a narrative that says you can be anything you want to be. You can reinvent yourself, leave your past behind, move out West, reach for the stars, follow your dreams.

But maybe this mythology of reinvention isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Marc Freedman, founder of Encore.org, a nonprofit that supports “second acts” in life, thinks that the whole idea of reinvention is dangerous. Aiming to build a “whole new you” might mean tossing out some valuable resources. Worse yet, by focusing on some kind of idealized self you could easily miss your true potential.

Freedman advocates “reintegration” over reinvention, drawing on a lifetime of knowledge and experience to accomplish new things.

Don Draper or Nicholas Brody?

Mad Men’s Don Draper is a case study in the kind of reinvention that Freedman is concerned about. Draper grew up motherless and in poverty during the depression. Along the way he has the chance to escape his past and he grabs it with both fists. He finds his “sweet spot” distilling desire and selling the American dream.

Draper’s problem is that he has to keep his multiple selves, like the women in his life, from meeting each other. If he ever stopped to explore the complexity of his life and discovered value in telling the truth he could well lose his Midas’ touch in the ad biz.

And this brings us to Sergeant Nicholas Brody, the highly complex central character from the TV series Homeland. In the course of Brody’s three year arc he swings wildly between hero and villain. Where he finally ends up is anybody’s guess.

Like Draper, Brody’s life has become a series of lies plastered on top of each other. A prisoner of war he was “turned” by the enemy and cultivated as a kind of Manchurian candidate. But then he gets “re-turned” by the CIA. Brody’s life eventually becomes a rapid spin-cycle around the Wall of Death.

Unlike Draper though, Brody desperately looks for some kind of thread in his life to pull things together. Is he a war hero? A victim? A family man? A killer? I’ll leave you to judge for yourself how successful Brody is at pulling of a “second act” and redeeming himself but it’s clear that when he does well it is because he finds strength and stability in his past. It’s impossible to imagine Brody pulling off his fait accompli without drawing on all of his previous experiences.

The contrast between these two figures is pretty stark. In their respective stories each has reached the end of the line. But only one will be remembered for who he truly was.

A Prayer for 2014

Photo by Danka & Peter

Out with the old, ring in the new. The custom of marking off another year and celebrating the possibility of better times ahead. The ancient Celts marked the year’s passing at the end of the harvest season.

More recent traditions include dancing in a bear suit and lowering a giant pickle into a vat of brine.

Certainly every one of us wants the coming year to be better than the last. But what if it’s not? What if it’s exactly the same – or worse? Perhaps the best thing we can do is to start the coming year in contemplation.

O Lord, our Father!
We have gathered here at the turn of the year
because we do not want to be alone but want to be with each other,
and together be united with you.

Our hearts are filled with somber thoughts
as we reflect on our misdeeds of the past year.
And our ears are deafened by the voices of the radio and in the newspapers,
with their numerous predictions for the coming year.
Instead we want to hear your word, your voice, your assurance, your guidance.
We know that you are in our midst,
and are eager to give us all that we need, whether we ask or not.

On this night we ask for one thing only:
that you collect our scattered thoughts,
getting rid of the confused and defiant thoughts that may distract us,
and thus enable us to concentrate on your limitless generosity to us.
You were abundantly generous to us last year,
and will be no less generous to us next year, and in every year to come.
Fill us with gratitude to you.

- Karl Barth

[Via Trevin Wax]

[Photo by Danka & Peter via Unsplash]

The Day After Christmas and the Psychology of Storage

Credit: Florian Klauer

So here we are. Most of us just shelled out over $700 for Christmas presents – sure, that's down slightly from previous years but it still means something on the order of five to 75 new objects joining the parade of crap that comes into our lives.

The neat freaks among us manage to prioritize and purge, clearing out their closets and donating stuff to charities where it either goes back on the market locally or gets baled and shipped abroad where our cast-offs compete against local industries in third world countries. The rest of us simply collect more junk until there's no place else to stash the junk and it goes into storage.

Self-Storage Is Storage for Your "Self"

One of the things that makes it tough to let go of our crap is that we confuse what we own with who we are. As if that's not bad enough, the brain interprets parting with belongings the same way it interprets physical pain.

For me personally it looks like 2014 is going to be a tough year. I've maxed out our closet space and garage storage and now I have my mother's belongings to deal with. And the cost of storage is quickly going to add up to more than the stuff is worth.

The Trouble with a Cluttered Mind

The problem with clutter is that every time you see a pile of unordered junk your mind wants to start processing it and it saps energy from the task at hand. For me personally it has gotten to the point where it is difficult to navigate my space and find stuff I want. But I think there is another problem – all this clutteration becomes an identity issue – I don't know who I am or where my focus should be because there are simply too many options.

2014 The Year of Living Dangerously

De-crapification has got to be my next big project if I want to keep my sanity and move ahead with my life. I don't really have a plan. I accept that it's going to be painful. And we'll see how this adventure goes.

[Image: Florian Klauer via Unsplash]

How Now Brown Cow: Chocolate Milk as a Recovery Drink

After hearing for years that water is the best thing to drink after exercise I was surprised to hear that the latest thing in recovery drinks is…chocolate milk!

I don’t know if it’s my imagination – or the placebo effect – but my knees do seem to feel better if I follow a run with a big glass of low fat chocolate milk. One thing I’m sure of, it’s been a great motivator. On days that I’m struggling with an extra helping of “doan wanna” it’s a little easier to get out on the trail knowing that there will be a big frosty mug of chocolate milk waiting at the end.

The Pros

According to WebMD chocolate milk has the following benefits over most sports drinks:

  • 3-to-1 ratio of carbohydrate to protein
  • Easily digested whey protein that can begin rebuilding muscle tissue immediately
  • Casein, a protein that is digested slowly and reduces amount of muscle breakdown well after the workout

Livestrong, a site that seems completely sold on the idea of chocolate milk after working out, cites a number of studies showing that runners recover faster after downing a glass of choco milk than a carbohydrate loaded sports beverage.

The Cons

As awesome as chocolate milk is, it might not be for everyone. Livestrong also posts anti-milk articles that suggest (strongly) that any dairy consumption might be cramping your style. The best way to know whether milk might be causing muscle or joint pain for you is to keep a food diary. Try two or three weeks dairy-free and record your aches and pains. Then re-introduce dairy and see if there is a difference in the way you feel.

All I know is that chocolate milk makes me feel like a kid again.

What about you, what’s your favorite post-workout drink?

[Photo by Alice Birkin]

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Come Home Alive – There’s an App for That

Search and rescue team attends to injured caver

Christopher Van Tilburg talks on Outside Blog about a search and rescue operation that went far better than usual because the stranded hikers had a smartphone. Rescuers were able to get detailed coordinates and guide the hikers to a safe pickup location. Maybe smartphones should be basic equipment?

If you are an adventuresome smartphone user, by all means check out survival apps such as the one from Mammut, a free survival app geared to skiers and snowboarders. BuddyGuard is another offering, one that automatically phones home if you become incapacitated. However, with a price of $120 you’re edging into personal beacon territory.

One thing to consider is how often you will be traveling outside of cellular range. If you’re out of bars, your smartphone might seem a little stupid. WoodsMonkey has some tips on how to use a smartphone as a survival tool even when you’re out of range.

If you want the Search and Rescue to find you when you’re really out in the wild you’ll need something more like the Spot Personal Tracker. This device actually sends your coordinates to a satellite which then communicates to a server and sends an email to prearranged parties. These beacons require a subscription service and they are limited in their ability to send messages. But you can work out a prearranged deal with friends or family to start a search in your last marked location if you fail to check-in.

None of these devices replace good old fashioned common sense but they do promise to shave hours off your own personal 127 Hours ordeal.

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