Lessons from Injuries

What is it about extreme sports and injuries?  It seems they go hand in hand, and don’t they always seem to happen at just the wrong time?  Or do they happen at just the right time?  Sometimes we learn things from our injuries and sometimes the lessons do not set in and we have to get injured again to really make it stick.  In the end though, life has a funny way of repeating circumstances until the lessons truly take hold. Every time I get injured, I ponder all these questions, and I go through a range of emotions from anger to guilt to finally acceptance.  Acceptance is the hardest one, and it takes a lot of introspection, but it usually comes.  So first, I want to catalog all my major injuries and then I will talk about what I learned in the process.

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Hiking in Congaree National Park, SC.

My first really big injury was in 1990.  It almost killed me.  I was a young mountain sport enthusiast, living in Gunnison, Colorado.  I was skiing every sick line I could find, jumping off big cliffs at Crested Butte, and skiing crazy shoots and trees 100+ days a year.  I was kayaking every river I could find a shuttle to, biking every trail in the area from Gunnison and Crested Butte to Moab and Fruita.  I was rock climbing every rock face I could find, and basically living the mountain lifestyle dream of doing everything related to mountains and doing it with wholehearted abandon. The adventures were always epic, and I do not regret the fast and crazy living of the Gunnison Valley, but did I mention that I was young and inexperienced?  When you are young, you don’t have a healthy respect for fear, and you basically huck yourself into every situation without much thought about the consequences.  When you are 20, you don’t realize that rocks can hurt and they can even kill.  So that Fall season, we had gotten a lot of early season snow for about two weeks and the powder gods were dumping the area with tons of snow.  We decided to hike for some turns on Crested Butte Mountain before it was open and we were treated to the best powder day I have ever experienced.  It was literally chest deep and some of the best light and fluffy snow I have ever skied.  We had been doing laps on some of the front side runs mid-mountain and during the last run, we were slowly making our way down the mountain.  They had cut a new black run on the front side of the mountain and we wanted to check it out.  Apparently, the stumps were not yet completely cleared out on that section.  I noticed a few strands of long grass sticking out of the snow, but I figured we would be all right and I dropped in.  I made three turns, caught a tip and went down on my side, right into one of the hidden tree stumps.  In my inexperience, I did not realize that the early season snow had not set up an adequate base layer yet, and so we were basically skiing right above the rocks.  It was fine up higher, but not down lower in the valley. Stumps do not mix well with ski tips, even if you are not going fast.  I went down and did not hit hard, but the wind was immediately knocked out of my chest and I was in a lot of pain on my side and gut.  I caught my breath, but was still having excruciating pain like a knife cutting into me with each breath I took, so I decided I needed to get out of there and find some help.  Each breath and every bump on the way down felt like hell-fire and  I was about to pass out from the pain.  Something was wrong.  At the bottom of the mountain, I laid down for a minute, while my friend went to get the van.  Luckily, he was not able to hike up to where the van was because he had on old Sorrell boots that were terrible for hiking uphill.  I wanted to lie there for awhile,  but he sensed something was wrong.  He came back to where I was and immediately got me up and we stumbled to the nearest clinic in Crested Butte.   I started to knock on the door and the door opened simultaneously.  The only paramedic in town was literally on his way to the store and we surprised him.  If I had been a minute or two later he would have been gone, and I found out later I would not have made it to hospital in time, which was 30 minutes down the road in Gunnison.  We went inside, took x-rays and determined I had two broken ribs.  I was getting very dizzy and was about to lose consciousness, so the paramedic called an ambulance and we set out to the hospital.  He got an IV in me and it turns out that is what saved my life.  If I had driven on my own, I would not have made it.  We made it to the hospital in Gunnison.  They put a catheter in me and it was all blood.  They did an exploratory surgery to see what was going on inside.  The broken ribs had punctured my kidney and I was bleeding internally.  The doctor thought it was not that bad and it would seal up on its own, so I sat in the hospital for a week with no progress.  Each day I kept bleeding out a small amount of blood in my urine.   A week later they sent me to Montrose, Colorado to have a MRI.  The doctor there said I needed emergency surgery to repair the kidney.  So they sent me to Denver General to a kidney specialist and he repaired the kidney the next day.  Two days later the stitches broke and I had to have a second surgery. After about three more weeks of recovery, I finally was released from the hospital.  Later, I went to retrieve my skis from the clinic in Crested Butte and met the guy who saved my life.  He said I could have died from that injury and I was lucky to be alive.  I thanked him and we talked a lot about the thin line of life and death.  So as you can see, that day gave me a new-found sense of life and purpose, and I gained a new sense of the fragile nature of life.  I decided I needed to slow down a little and think about things more before jumping in head first.  In one quick moment, I was given a glimpse of the transient nature of life and it woke me up.  I was thankful to be alive and it gave me a new sense of being thankful for every breath and every moment.  I vowed to cherish life more and to live life with more purpose and direction.  I would still ski, bike, climb and kayak, but now I would have a better sense of respect for possible injuries and I would listen to my gut instinct more when it said to back off.  I was learning to turn off the ego, and to live for my own joy and not to impress others.  When you are young, you sometimes do things so others will be impressed and my competitive nature always drove me to do better and to go bigger than someone else and to do it faster, etc.  I was now realizing the futility of ego and I was learning to live for my own goals and aspirations.  Who did I need to impress?  Who cares what others think?  In sport, you have to do things for your own joy and passion. When you can do that and learn to live in the moment, you are free to pursue sport for the sake of sport and you learn to push yourself in ways you never realized were possible.

My next injury was many years later and it was a big one too.  I was rock climbing one day on a two pitch route in North Carolina at the Looking Glass called Rat’s Ass.

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Climbing the super classic finger crack Shredded Wheat 5.11

After the first pitch, I had set up a hanging belay in a crack and brought my wife Shannon up to the stance.  I had noticed a shooting pain in my lower back and it was killing me.  We finished the day and I went home and took some Ibuprofen to help with the shooting back pain.  It never went away and for the next month, every time I was standing, sitting, or walking, I was in intense pain.  The pain radiated down my leg and and was debilitating. The only time it did not hurt, was when I was laying in the fetal position in bed.  I had been getting massage and adjustments at a Osteopath for a while and the pain would go away for a day, but it would come back with a vengeance.  The Osteopath finally ordered an MRI and gave me a diagnosis of a slipped or herniated disc.  A lifetime of skiing bumps and hard mountain living had finally caught up to me.  Surgery was the only option, so I traveled to Dallas, Texas and had surgery with a neurologist friend of my dads.  Two hours after the surgery, I was pain-free and I walked out of the hospital.  The laminectomy/dissectomy surgery was a complete success.  The doctor said I could not rock climb for three months, and at the time I was a complete climbing addict.  What was I going to do?  How could I not climb for 90 days?  At first I was super depressed and angry.  I got bored very quickly as well.  The doctor said to walk as much as possible for therapy, so I started hiking more. Slowly, my mental state started to change.  I went to some amazing places in North Carolina and started hiking a few 6000 foot peaks.

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The ridge to Plott Balsam

I discovered a hiking program called SB6K, which stands for South Beyond 6000.  SB6K is a hiking challenge to hike all the states 40 peaks over 6000 feet.  There are actually 60 peaks, but some are just sub-peaks of other peaks.  I completed the program a year later and that was one of the most meaningful and tough projects I have ever completed.  For a full write up of that experience, see my post Bushwhacking in High Places.  In the end of that experience, I discovered that life can show you many beautiful things if you take the time to find them and step out of your comfort zone and try new things.  The back injury forced me to stop climbing, and I learned to climb in new ways, through hiking.  I saw places of beauty during that summer that I cannot describe, and I learned more about perseverance and overcoming great odds in three months than I had in all my entire life.  I learned patience and how to wait for things.  After three months I started climbing again, and the lessons I learned during that time helped my climbing tremendously.  I learned to wait for the right moment, and I learned that injuries get better when the time is right.  I learned that not doing your main passion all the time opens other doors of learning and opportunities that are sometimes hidden.  Once again I learned about moderation and managing risk.  I would still climb, but I would do it smarter and in ways that did not tax my back so much.  I learned to respect my body and to cherish it for what it is, a medium through which I discover beautiful things and places in the world.  I needed to take care of my body and slowing down is always a good thing for your body.  I did not stop, I was just more mindful and not as careless.

My next injury was tearing my glenoid labrum joint in my shoulder while bouldering at the climbing gym.  I had been pushing it really hard and completed a strenuous problem, but in an instant of ego, I dynoed to a higher hold to show I could do a hard problem, plus one more move.  The instant I lunged for the hold I heard and felt the click, which signaled the tear of my shoulder.  I instantly had a shooting pain all through my arm and knew I injured it.  I rested for about a week and it still hurt bad, so I finally went to the doctor.  He ordered a MRI and yes, I tore the joint.  It would never completely heal, but he did say to rest for a while and see what happens.  I did not climb for a month.  He said to go out and test the waters so to speak.  I went out and climbed on it.  It seemed fine, so to this day, I still climb on it and never got surgery.  I just have to be aware of it and not overly exert the shoulder too much.  I can still climb hard, but I have to use my feet more and push through moves instead of yank hard on my shoulder or do a crazy dynamic move on the shoulder.  So once again, the lessons were moderation and control.  I learned to have control of my body to not flail around on climbs haphazardly and jump for holds.   I learned to control my mind to not over do it when I might want to do “one more route before we go”, and most of all I learned to control my mind and let it go and relax in situations that might be stressful.  I have learned to be in the moment more and to take things for what they are now.  If I fail at a route and it is too hard, it is all right and I know I tried my best.  At least I am still out there giving it a go.  I do not have to be the best and I do not have to do every route, but I still get out there and do it.

Last year I was injured hiking.  That injury was pretty funny actually, because I got hurt trying to help a dog get a ball out of the river.  My wife and I used to walk a husky for extra money twice a week.  That day we went on one of our favorite hikes to a local waterfall in Montreat College.  Finn, the dog we walked, loved the water and he loved tennis balls and chasing them.  He just did not really understand the art of fetching.

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Finn the dog

He would do it sometimes, but most of the time he would only bring back the ball half way, or he would drop it in the river, like he did that day.  I threw the ball and he chased it and brought it back half way and it rolled back into the river.  Slowly it tumbled down to a lower pool in the river.  He would not get it and so dumb me went for it.  I started to walk towards the slanting, slick wall of rock near the water and slipped.  I tried to run it out, fell and almost made it, but hit my hand hard on the rocks and severely dislocated my ring finger.  I had to get stitches and luckily I got my wedding ring off before the major swelling started.  They later numbed my hand and finger with Novacaine and set it back in place.  The shots on my finger and hand they gave me really hurt by the way.  Have you ever had a shot right in the sensitive nerves of your fingers and hand?  Yes, it burns like fire and feels like someone is grinding your hand  with a meat cleaver.  It is now a year and a half later, and I still have a swollen knuckle on my finger.  I can get my wedding ring on and off if I put baby oil on it.  At least I still have complete range of motion and I can still ride and race my bike and run my guide service I started called Pisgah Mountain Bike Adventures.

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Firetower in The Buffalo National River trails, AR.

So through this injury, I learned that even simple outings can become dangerous and if you let your guard down, even for a moment, things can happen that you do not expect.  I was not thinking and went down the steep, wet slope towards the water just to get a tennis ball.  I let my guard down and fell on a slope I knew not to tread on, but I did anyways in a momentary lapse of judgement.  After this experience, I learned to slow down and evaluate situations, even simple ones, for objective hazards, and think before you act.  One of the best lessons I learned from rock climbing that could be applied here, is to think of a challenge and fear of the unknown as a bubble.  You have a circle around you at all times.  If you stay in the circle, you stagnate and never grow.  To grow, you must step out of the circle and push through your fear.  You see the fear or objective danger for what it is, you evaluate all the hazards, you look at your abilities and know you are capable of doing a move, and then you decide to move forward.  You do not do it recklessly, but in a controlled manner.  You see the fear and danger and you push it aside for a moment and not let it paralyze you, and you move forward.  In that way, you learn to have a healthy respect for the fear or challenge, and for the time you move through it and push it aside.  In that way it does not control you and you learn to use it to grow and challenge yourself in new ways.  You go outside that bubble and you make it safely to the next hold and you realize you can do it.  In that way our fears are there to help guide us though the challenge and in the end it is our mind that breaks though the challenge.  If I would have slowed down and looked at that ball and saw the danger of the steep, wet slope, I could have made a better plan to crab crawl down the slope or find an easier way around.  I let my mind get clouded by the reward of getting the ball fast and I slipped and screwed up my hand.  Once again, lessons through injuries.

Now we come to the present.  Four weeks ago, I was biking and crashed hard in a rock garden and fractured my fifth metacarpal in my hand and got six stitches in my arm.  The doctor this time said no biking for six weeks.  I am four weeks out and I am finally starting to get range of motion back in my hand and fingers and it is healing great.  I have been hiking a good bit again, bagging summits from the SB6K program again, and I am in a pretty good space right now emotionally.  For the past year I have been biking really hard and the month before my injury, I had really been pushing it and exploring new trails I had never been on before.  I was getting a little too comfortable with fast riding and taking things for granted a bit as far as health and injury.  It is funny how your brain shuts out that part of life.  I had been riding solo a lot before the injury and I was really feeling confident and dare I say a tad bit invincible?  Then bam, I hit a tree with my bar, right at a serious rock garden, and go into the rocks way off-balance trying to recoup.  The first rock my front tire hits sends me flying over my handlebars.  I fly off the trail and land 15 feet off the trail straight on my arm on solid, sharp rocks.  Blood is gushing everywhere and I was a little worried at first.  I move my fingers and they seemed all right.  It hurt, but not that bad.  I thought I just jammed my finger, no big deal.  After a few minutes, the blood stops gushing, and so I bike the mile back to the road, holding on with two fingers since my fingers hurt a bit when I put pressure on them. I walked any technical section and rode the rest.  I made it to the road and coast two more miles to where Shannon had waited for me after our earlier ride together on the first loop.  I did a second loop solo of course, and that was the new to me technical loop.  What could possibly happen I thought earlier?  I will be fine I told her.  I guess I was a little off that day, because I crashed three times that day, once on an uphill fire-road even.  Who knows?  I came up to her and said I think I need to go get some stitches, since I had a pretty big gash on my arm.  At the urgent care in Asheville, I learned I did indeed fracture my hand.  Crap, here we go again.

I have been thinking a lot about this hand injury and what it means.  I have tried to stay positive this time and for the most part I have done well with this part.  It could have been much worse and I feel lucky that it was not my head or that I did not break any other major bones like my arm or leg.  This time I learned to be thankful for what I do have.  For two weeks I could not use my hand and that was a challenge.  Actions you take for granted like showering or brushing your teeth, getting dressed, writing, etc., were impossible to do alone.  Shannon had to help me wash my arm pits and help me get dressed.  Luckily, we have a bidet in the bathroom.  Even my wife draws the line at times.  Slowly, I started to adapt and learn to do those things on my own.  I got pretty good at typing left-handed, showering and brushing my teeth.  In the process, it taught me to be truly thankful for health and simple things like grabbing an object, or writing my name on a paper.  Now I am typing with my right hand and I am getting better range of motion each day.  I learned to not take health for granted and I learned to be grateful for the little things.  I know it will heal, it will just take a little time.  In the big scheme of things, six weeks is nothing and it could have been much worse and I feel truly grateful that I will make it and live to ride again.

It is really hard to see events and circumstances just as they are and not have negative reactions to those things or events. When we can do that, we learn to control how we react to situations and we take them for what they are in the moment, namely learning experiences. We learn to regulate our emotions and not be attached to outcomes or controlling things that are out of our control.  We then are free to be happy in the moment and learn from the experience and not brood over things. All these experiences have been hard, but I have tried to stay positive and learn from the experiences. In the big scheme of things, 6 weeks, 3 months or a year and a half is nothing, and all these injuries could have been much worse and I feel grateful for that fact. Injuries are great teachers. You just have to look hard for the silver lining. “Healing is a matter of time, yet it is also sometimes a matter of opportunity.”

Reflections of a Mountain Bike Guide

I learned so many amazing things this summer guiding mountain bike trips for Pisgah Mountain Bike Adventures.  It is incredible the things one can learn while guiding and riding a bike.  The best thing has been sharing our incredible local trails and the emotions that were experienced with our clients while riding.  I felt like I really tapped into something that was very inspiring on so many levels.  There were so many moments talking with clients and them saying things like, “that was the best trail I have ever ridden in my life”, or “I have never ridden that far before”. or “I did not know I could do that.”  Basically, what I experienced was sharing the love of biking, and in that moment I saw people grow in ways I never realized.  When a client struggles yet perseveres to the end of a ride, and looks at you with a complete sense of accomplishment and beams with happiness, it makes me smile too.  I get to experience breakthrough moments with clients every time I go out and it reaffirms why I do this job.  When you see someone light up and smile with a grin so big after they thought they could not go another mile, I capture that moment as well, and am inspired and lifted up.  Sharing trails helps me to find my purpose and to find my own joy.

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I love showing people the incredible riding here, and when I am in the moment with a client when they have such joy, it helps me realize how good I have it in my own life.  Sometimes we locals take the trails for granted and we loose sight of the beauty all around our area and how special it really is.  Sharing trails creates clarity in my own meaning making moments.  It helps me to be grateful to be alive and to experience these beautiful places both when I am guiding and adventuring on my own.

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This summer I also got to experience families and friends coming together in a common goal of having fun and creating moments together.  When I see a family struggling and laughing together, and ultimately overcoming obstacles together, it helps to seal my own bonds of family and the bonds we share together.  It also helps inspire me to go home and hug my wife and to tell her I love her, and to pet my cats and revel in the bonds we all share together.  Sharing trails strengthens my own family connections.  reflections1

This summer was the summer of the kid at Pisgah Mountain Bike Adventures.  We took out so many young kids and helped to inspire the next generation of shredders.  Kids on bikes is the ultimate expression of freedom and joy.  When I see them smile and shout WooHoo, the only thing one can do is smile.  Kids are the best Zen Masters and when they ride they pass a bit of that mastery on to you as well.  I was inspired so many times by kids sharing their stoke to the world this summer.  It is impossible to not smile when you see a kid ripping down a trail, fearlessly charging into the unknown.  We all could learn a thing or two from that level of inspiration.  Sharing trails with kids helps strengthen my own sense of freedom and spontaneity.

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Last night I saw a movie about a guy named Frank Sanders, owner of Above All Climbing Guides, who guides rock climbing at Devils Tower, Wyoming.  He was so happy and loved to share the experiences of climbing the tower just as he had so many times before.  He has been there for many years and it seems that he will do it as long as he physically can.  It brought him to a higher level of understanding and helped him to be at peace with the world.  I am realizing that guiding for me is very similar.  It helps me to be at peace with the world and my purpose, and it helps me to find my place.  Sharing trails creates peace of mind and a sense of purpose, and it shows me my way in the world.

I hope I can do this guiding thing for a long time, and everyday I am reminded of how grateful I am to have the opportunity to be a co-owner of Pisgah Mountain Bike Adventures and to share the love of biking with others.  I have grown so much this summer and found moments of clarity that surprised me each day.  Sharing trails has made me grateful to be alive and helped me to find my way home.

Finding Flow in Pisgah

I have finally completed a goal I have been working on for a while now.  Yesterday, I finished my first mountain bike ride of 50 miles in 5 hours and twenty minutes, with an average speed of 9.3 mph.  My great friend, Patrick, accompanied me on the ride, and we had an incredible day biking in the woods.  We linked up all the classic trails in Bent Creek and Mills River in Pisgah Forest near Asheville, NC for a sweet epic ride.  Surprisingly, the ride was not as hard as I thought it would be and I did not bonk as I have in the past on long rides.  There were lots of long climbs, but we mixed in all the classic downhills in order to spice up the action.  The day started cloudy with a nice gentle breeze and the temperatures were pleasant as well.  The forecast was for rain later in the day, but luckily we only had lite showers about five times during the ride and did not get too wet.  The rain actually kept us cool and settled the dust on the trails, making the soil tacky and perfect for biking because our tires gripped like velcro.  The big deluge came literally the moment we set foot in our cars at the end of the ride.  Funny how that goes sometimes.  A weird thing also was that no one was out on the trails and we had the forest to ourselves.  I guess everyone was scared away by the forecast.  Their loss I suppose.  We talked a lot on the ride, but Patrick is really fast on the climbs, so he would usually take off at one point.  I would steadily ride at my pace, alone with my thoughts and breath as a companion.  These times spent alone were very memorable and meaningful.  I kept immersing myself in the beautiful surroundings.  The woods were really exploding with the bright yellow-green of the new Spring.  There are hundreds of colors of green in North Carolina and the early bright green of Spring seems to be some of the most vibrant.  It breathes life and glows a radiant yellow hue as if the pulse of life is surging through the leaves and shining the suns rays directly through from above.  The clouds were blanketing the mist covered valleys and creating a rainforest-like feel of freshness and abundance.  The trees swayed gently in the breeze and water dripped rhythmically off the leaves, creating a sense of newness and reawakening of the life within that is Spring.  Sweat was pouring off by brow, and my breath was going in and out as if in sync with the sounds around me in the trees.  You have funny conversations in your head at times like these trudging up a long climb alone.  I felt alive and I felt calm and satisfied.  My body was working in harmony with the bike, the surroundings and the moment.  I felt as if I was right where I was supposed to be, moving my bike up a mountain against the fall of gravity.  I was challenging my mind and pushing through pre-conceived limits and enjoying every moment.  And for every climb, there is a much deserved fast descent on narrow single-track.  You are on the edge of safety and yet flowing effortlessly over rocks and drops, a smile a mile wide the entire time.  The pain of the climb melting away with each pedal rotation and burst of speed down the narrow trail.  A gentle tap on the breaks, a few pedal turns, dodge a rock or obstacle, flow down the fall line.  You are merging with the pull of gravity and speed like a downhill ski racer, making slight adjustments and most of all letting go of your thoughts and just being in the moment.  Flow is the name of the game on descents.  Fear is pushed aside temporarily and you let the bike do what it is made to do, namely bring you down a trail fast and smoothly, absorbing most of the impacts.  Your mind is temporarily detached from the fear and your body just goes.  These moments are fleeting and yet attainable by anyone.  Just let go and ride.  Mountain biking is a great avenue to find these treats in yourself and in nature. When you are out in the heart of wilderness, away from the hustle and bustle, with only your thoughts and actions as companions, good things seem to follow.  I felt this peaceful feeling of flow on this day and it helped me to keep going and to push through the pain. And it truly was one of my favorite rides of the year.  Not bad for a Tuesday afternoon in Pisgah Forest.

Humble Thoughts During a Battered Economy

Today I was hired as a Special Education teacher at Canton Middle School in North Carolina.  This fact seems ordinary to most, but the reality is that it is very big news in my life.  Eight months ago, I was laid off the second time from my last two English teaching positions.  The first time I was at the school for four years and was cut because of budget concerns.  The second time I was laid off because my job was combined into another job to save money, and so I was not qualified for the job any longer.  I had to find work, and I knew it would be hard.  In fact, it has been a full-time job the past eight months.  I get up each morning and search the computer for hours and religiously send out applications and resumes almost daily.  I have applied for exactly 93 jobs in the past eight months, and been on 11 interviews.  I have eight years of teaching experience, and yet was struggling to even get interviews for jobs I was over-qualified for.  Thank God I have been on unemployment during this time, or we surely would have lost the house.  My wife and I have managed to scrape by.  She went back to grad school a year ago for a counseling masters, and so has been in school full-time.  Luckily, she was getting student loans and that helped our small income.  We have managed to rack up our credit card bills to around $15,000 out of necessity.  It is amazing how much it takes to just survive.  We have learned to cut back on many things like going out and traveling, and have saved a lot by cutting wood this year for all our heating needs from the wood stove.  We learned about a discount store called Dickies and Amazing Savings that carry outdated items for around 50 cents.  They carry things like canned food that has been dented or a box of Little Annie’s Mac and Cheese organic dinners that are a few days past the expiration date, but otherwise just fine.  The money saved at that store alone has been incredible.  We did not buy many Christmas presents last year and my wife even made a few gifts herself like ornaments.  We had leftover gift cards from our wedding that we were able to buy a few small gifts with.  Even though it has been hard and I seem to be complaining, it really has not been so bad.  Things financially began to turn in a positive way for us two weeks ago, when I started walking a dog part-time.  That job has given us spending money and helped significantly to not add more to our credit card debt.  But during this entire time, I tried to stay positive, knowing that eventually things would get better.  I kept myself busy by starting riding mountain bikes competitively again and going to races at age 41.  I started writing again, which has been a saviour in its own unique way.  I have been reading a lot more.  I have become a better roommate and keep up with chores better now.  I have spent quality time with my wife and our two cats.  I even got to visit my family after about two years of not seeing them.  I have been thinking a lot and reflecting on life.  One of the best things has been all the mountain biking.  I have seen some amazing terrain and ridden some incredible trails in the past five months.  I saw wildlife like bears, foxes, turkey, grouse, and hawks, and have seen views of the mountains to last a lifetime.  I have experienced much peace during these times in the woods and in my own head as well.  I even starting riding with a group of people who are surely going to be good friends for a long time to come.  I know many people are worse off than we have been, and I have been thankful for the fact that we have family that has helped us some financially where others do not have that luxury.  This whole experience though has taught me to be thankful for the little things, and I know I am happier now than I have been in the past.  We will still struggle to get caught up, and this job is only temporary for the next four and a half months with no guarantee for a position the next year.  It will be a significant pay cut for me, since the job is technically a teacher assistant job.  But it is a job, and I am supremely thankful for that fact.  So many people can not even eat, much less have a place to call home.  In the end, I have been humbled by this learning experience.  I have learned to value the simple pleasures and to not take things and opportunities for granted.  I am happy and I am moving forward and yet much wiser as a result.  I am learning to be humble, learning to be patient and most of all how to persevere.  May life always bring about opportunities for learning and opportunities to grow and think in new ways.  May I continue to be humbled beyond measure.  Thank you.

Water the Life Inside

(Poem originally written in 1993 after reading Homer’s Odyssey)

The water all around

Flooding thoughts careen,

I tread the ocean-trails before me now.

 

Inner glory is what we see

In the eyes of the child.

Beauty made alive

In just a smile.

 

To become what we will,

In this myriad before the eye.

Everything so strange it seems.

Why fight the turbulent waters?

 

Soar with the angels of light.

Dance in the darkness,

So all will know the song.

Embrace the eagles of you dreams.

 

In the end,

All is one in love.

 

Shine hearts delight.

Free the inner child within your soul.

All can partake of the feast.

All can sing the endless song.

 

Shout out joy to the world.

Fly now with the wonder of life.

Give to each day new hope.

Happiness is for all to see.

Motivation in the Face of Fear

Have you ever been afraid to try something new, or been afraid to take action because of the fear of failure?  We all have fears and yet some people learn to live with them and overcome them, while others are paralyzed in their presence.  Personally, I am afraid almost everyday, yet I still get up and face these fears and even overcome them once in a while.  Fear can lead one to action.  Once on a rock climb I was getting tired beyond belief and was moments away from falling.  There was a jagged ledge below and hitting it in a fall could have been deadly.  But somehow, the fear lead me to a do or die action, and I carefully placed my foot on solid holds, breathed in a deep breath, cleared my head and made the move to safety.  In that moment, fear led me forward and I used it to take appropriate action.  I remember being afraid to leave Boulder, Colorado for my first teaching job in California.  I was scared of moving across the country and failing at the job.  But I knew the kids there needed me, and I knew I could help students there find their way.  I was sad to leave the mountains, yet happy for newness.  In life you must always try to grow and seek new pastures or else you will surely fade away with the setting sun.  I remember being afraid to take up mountain bike racing again at age forty.  I wanted to see if I could rise to the challenge, because it had been fifteen years since I raced in Colorado.  I started training relentlessly and went to my first race in Danville, Virginia last October.  I was scared beyond reason and my nerves leading up to the race were overwhelming me.  I could not sleep for two days before the race and I kept catastrophizing bad situations that would happen during the race like getting a flat or crashing and getting hurt.  It turns out that after five minutes of racing it started to rain like a monsoon in Thailand.  It rained hard for an hour and the course was a slop fest.  But halfway through the first lap, I said to myself, “race your own race, it is just for fun.”  I finally calmed down and just started having fun.  I remember there was a woman who had tunes blaring from her I-Phone and she was just singing along with the music and having a blast in the rain.  I rode with her for a while and realized that really this endeavor was just for fun, and to try not to be so serious.  I pushed through the fear and started to have the time of my life.  Funny thing though on the second lap my front brake cable broke so I had only a back brake for nine miles in the mud soaked, slippery course.  But I kept going and finished the race.  I even took ninth place and still beat two people in my age class.  Wow, how was that possible?  Fear in that instance turned to action, and in the end I had fun and learned many lessons about living.  When you can turn fear into a motivator, life begins to reward you.  You realize that all things are possible and failure can happen, but it is all right.  If you fail at something, that is just an opportunity to try it again in a new way.  As Randy Pausch said in The Last Lecture, “Brick walls are there for a reason…’they’ are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something.”  Do you climb over the wall, do you dig a hole and go under it, or do you take a brick out and go through it?  Challenges are stepping-stones to action and trying new things in new ways.  If we never tried new things and stepped out of our comfort zone, we would never grow.  So think about whether fear is holding you back from realizing your true potential.  It is all right to have fear, but try not to let it overwhelm you to the point of non-action.  When you face life directly and go out there and live and not hide from life, life will truly reward you for your efforts.  I have learned so many life lessons simply by action and failure.  Get out there and try something new.  Climb a mountain, write a story, ride your bike, communicate to a distant family member, ask a girl or guy out to the movies, dream big, travel, live life.  Take your next step.  In the end, only good things will come to you.