Trip Report: Paddling Buffalo Bayou…

We had talked about this for a while.  I had heard, and confirmed, that the Houston REI rented out kayaks.  So, once I got a few extra bucks in my pocket, I made arrangements for us to rent a couple of kayaks from REI and paddle part of the Buffalo Bayou.

 

Twin kayaks on the Honda

They said it couldn’t be done…

The look on the face of the guy at REI who saw us pull up in a 2004 Honda Civic to pick up our kayaks was priceless.  With some help, we got them secured to the roof of the car.  He found the spectacle entertaining enough that he insisted on getting a picture.  The put-in for Section 5 of the Buffalo Bayou was less than a mile away so I was not all that worried about the kayaks.  We drove out of the parking lot of the Houston REI and up a side street through a beautiful neighborhood to Briar Bend Park.  Access to the Bayou at Briar Bend is behind the park.

Access was pretty easy, even toting heavy 10ft plastic recreational kayaks.  The beasts we rented were not like the sleek, light sport kayaks I’m used to.  These were the heavy, lumbering Old Town Vapor 10 kayaks.  Short, wide and made of heavy plastic, these boats were nearly 50lbs without any gear and made to take a beating.  I would consider them a pretty good beginners kayak, with a relatively flat bottom and very wide mid-section they were very stable.  I’m not sure if I could have tipped it over if I tried.

Buffalo Bayou kayaking

Our plan for the day had options: We initially thought we would paddle downstream from Section 4 (Briar Bend Park) to the put in for Section 5 (Woodway Memorial Park) and if it didn’t take too long we would just paddle back upstream to Briar Bend.  The Bayou is a pretty slow moving water way and paddling upstream would not be difficult.  Plus, we did not schedule a shuttle or plan for leaving a vehicle at a designated take-out.  Plan B was to drift on past Woodway Memorial on to the other side of Memorial Park and perhaps further if we kept up a fast pace.  We expected to be out for about 4 hours.  Without a shuttle, we had decided we’d just pull off the bayou wherever we wanted and grab a cab to take one of us back to our car while the other waited with the kayaks.

So, with options for the day, we carried our giant hogs down to the water and prepared ourselves for an afternoon of paddling.

LESSON ONE:

Always bring more food than you need.  We were running a little late that morning getting started, so we did not get the chance to run by the store to stock up on snacks for the afternoon.  I had packed water, almonds and a couple of apples.  Turns out almonds and a couple of apples are not enough food for a 5+ hour paddling trip.  Make sure to pack enough food and water to last longer than you anticipate being gone.

The put-in at Briar Bend is nice.  It’s tree covered and an easy walk to the water’s edge.  The Bayou is very narrow here so this is one of the few places with an actual riffle of fast moving water.  I set up Merelyn at the lower end of the rapid so she didn’t have to push-off in to a fast current and then set myself up a little higher (just for fun).  Once on the water, we got ourselves settled in to our boats and began our paddle trip.

The water on the Bayou is slow and murky, exactly what I expected from a Bayou.  It is definitely a leisurely paddling trip, we kept up a decent pace but it was still plenty slow enough to enjoy some of the more scenic turns.  Old growth trees, hanging their heavy, gnarled limbs over the water as if guarding the muddy shoreline.  Vines draping low as they weave between the tree branches added to the dense vegetation.  The Buffalo Bayou winds it’s way through the heart of Houston.  So, from time to time, the trees open up to reveal some building or another peaking through the greenery.  Much of the Bayou is adjacent to high-end private estates or golf communities so the architecture seen from the water can be impressive.

As we paddled along, learning how to handle the new boats, we started to see the signs of wildlife along the waterway.  Often, something would slip in to the murky water before we could get a good look at what it was.  But we did see snakes, turtles and fish as well as a variety of birds.

LESSON TWO:

Know the skill level of your party.  Little did I know, Merelyn had virtually no experience in a kayak.  I’ve seen her use the sit-on kayaks on trips to Mexico and she handles the paddle with confidence so I never suspected her lack of experience.  On most whitewater trips, I don’t assume anyone has experience unless I’ve paddled with them before.  I would normally run through a quick “how-to” and talk about fitting the kayak, posture, paddle grip and technique.  Along the way, once I realized she was struggling with certain parts of paddling, we did a quick lesson on steering, stopping, correcting, etc.  It’s important to know the skill level of your adventure partner and, if you are the one lacking experience in a particular skill, you should not feel embarrassed or afraid to ask for help.

We reached our first take-out option pretty quickly.  We stopped for a minute to discuss our options: paddle back, or keep on going?  Ultimately we chose to keep on going under the assumption that the next leg would take us about the same amount of time as Section 5.  We had a quick snack of some almonds and I ate one of the apples (Merelyn was afraid they were too old and not good anymore).  The next section proved to be much more technical than the first.  The path of the Bayou became more twisted and littered with debris.  Consequently, the water moved even slower forcing us to work harder.  We both had assumed that as we neared the Memorial Park area, there would be places where we could get out of the Bayou prematurely if we were getting tired…this was not the case.  The shoreline continued to be a thick, matted jungle of shrubs, vines and tree-limbs.  And where it wasn’t so heavily vegetated, the shore was either too steep to ascend or was private property and clearly not welcome to trespassers.

We paddled on.  The map we had picked up from REI showed the Bayou Paddle Trail and the areas where access was available.  However, the map was remarkably small and lacking in detail and many of the supposed access points were not marked.  Without knowing exactly how far we had to go, or how long it would take us, uncertainty began to weigh on my hungry companion (“almonds are NOT food”).  The Bayou was loosing it’s charm.  The shear volume of litter and trash that choke the waterway was disturbing to both of us.  Some parts were worse than others but it seems that the Bayou has been the personal dumping ground for the population of Houston.

LESSON THREE:

Know your equipment.  The ability to rent expensive equipment like rafts and kayaks is great, it grants you the opportunity to participate in an activity that you otherwise couldn’t afford.  The problem is, most times you are renting equipment you may have never used and may never use again.  In some cases, this can be a deadly problem.  Luckily, in our case, I had experience with several different styles of kayaks and once I knew there was an issue I could address it.  Again, don’t be afraid to ask about your equipment.  Let the outfitter know that you want them to walk you through the features of the equipment you are renting.  You’re paying to use it, get the most out of it by knowing what it can do.

Shortly before we came to the Hogg Bird Sanctuary, Merelyn and I stopped and she complained about not being able to find a comfortable position in the kayak.  It was wearing her down, constantly having to shift around to find a stable position.  This is when we realized that she had never found the foot braces.  They had been pushed so far forward by the last person to use the kayak that she didn’t even know they were there.  Once we adjusted them so that she could reach them, and fine tuned them until she was comfortable, everything changed.  Suddenly, she was comfortable in the kayak, had better posture and a stronger stroke.  She was re-energized and anxious to reach familiar ground.

We never did see the exit point at the Hogg Bird Sanctuary (beginning of Section 7) and looking at the map, decided we’d shoot for a take-out at Eleanor Tensley Park (just short of Section 8).  The Bayou straightens out after the Hogg Bird Sanctuary and we were able to make good time, especially with Merelyn’s new-found mastery of her kayak.  The cruised along at a good pace, the bayou opened up at the shore and we no longer felt “trapped”.  We pushed to a spot along Eleanor Tensley Park where we could pull the kayaks out and wash them off a little before dragging them, and our gear, up the hill to the parking lot.

LESSON FOUR:

Always have an exit strategy.  It’s always good to have a plan, and a backup plan.  But makes sure your plans are well thought out and you are prepared for them.  As much as “eh, we’ll figure it out when we get there” can make for a great story and adventure, it can also create pain, misery and resentment.  It’s best to have a clear, well designed plan for concluding your excursions.  One that everyone is informed about and agrees with.  

It was getting late, so I called a cab company (the only one in town) and put Plan B into action.  The answering service for the cab company hung up on me when I failed to find a physical street address for the park.  Turns out, this park has NO listed street address.  It has no address on any of the signage either, nor the website, nor the map.  This, as we were to find, makes the park invisible to cab drivers.  I looked up an address (not even sure it was a proper address) online for the park, but without the numbers displayed somewhere we were gonna have problems.  I finally convinced the dispatcher to send a cab our way.  I watched, who I believe was our cabby, drive by the park 3 times before I got a phone call from him angrily asking where I was.

I was berated, in broken English, for sending this guy on a wild-goose chase to an address that “does not exist!”.  I watched him drive by two more times while I had him on the phone and could not get him to understand that the giant green grassy area with the trees was THE PARK!  I finally waved down the irate cab driver who was crawling along the roadside, getting honked at and I’m sure receiving various unpleasant gestures, and had him pull in to the parking lot.  I sent poor Merelyn with this inconsolable, and incomprehensible,  man who would not stop insisting that the park did not exist.  As they left, I pulled the kayaks the rest of the way up the hill, into the shade, and crawled in to one (hammock style) to take a nap.

LESSON FIVE:

It’s all about attitude.  Even in some of the most stressful and crazy situations, laughter and calm sets everyone at ease.  Life is too serious to take seriously.  When things start to go wrong, they can be made worse by arguing, complaining and fighting with others about the situation.  Or, when things turn for the worse, you can accept it, go with the flow, have a sense of humor and unite to meet the challenge head on.  Cooler heads prevail.

Some time later, Merelyn arrived in her car.  She had brought food (hers was already consumed, I’m sure within seconds of it being passed through the drive-thru window).  She filled me in on the antics of the poor, distressed cab driver who clearly had signed on for more than he could handle that evening.  He really could not let go of the fact that the park address did not exist…it could also be that the address issue was the only thing Merelyn could understand between his thick accent, propensity for leaning on the horn and apparent inability to navigate traffic.

We loaded up our gear and strapped the kayaks to the top of the car again and headed home.  We ended the day sunburned, tired and hungry but we laughed all the way home (mostly at the cabby).  It was an adventure and, like all good adventures, it was more than we had bargained for.  In the end, we had a fun day together and a story to tell.  What else really matters?

South Lake Tahoe: Wedding Planning…

“We’re getting married here.”

These are the words my beautiful fiancé whispered in my ear as I held her in my arms on the grassy hill overlooking Regan Beach.  We have researched for months trying to find a location for our wedding ceremony.  Tahoe is a beautiful place, but finding just the right location for our wedding had proved difficult.  We had originally settled on a beach location just outside our reception venue, but once we physically visited the beach we were concerned about too many problems and the search continued.

Other decisions were easier and our trip last week was mainly to see if we had made the right decisions.  I think we did well.  We had found 968 Park Hotel online.  The hotel is a renovation of an older establishment.  The new owners had a vision of creating the first Eco-Hotel in South Lake Tahoe.  The new “Green” Hotel was created with the environment in mind.

“Since day one of the renovation every effort was made to reduce, re-use and recycle as much of the existing materials as possible.  Any materials and furnishings that could not be reused were either donated or recycled for other purposes and the new materials used in the renovation were specifically chosen for their sustainability.”

Lobby of the 968 Park Hotel

Lobby and Bar at 968 Park Hotel

We both fell in love with the concept of the hotel immediately.  But concept and practice are two different things.  We made reservations to stay at 968 Park Hotel on this trip to make sure the hotel would fit our needs to house our guests for the wedding.  There were a few minor issues, not much different than you’d find in any busy hotel (it was the weekend after the biggest snow of the year and they were packed).  We had rooms for us and our parents, and the general consensus was that the hotel would fit our needs nicely.  We had a great stay and we highly recommend them if you are in the area.  Even if you don’t stay there, stop in to the little bar for Happy Hour and just check the place out.

The other easy decision was the venue for the Rehearsal Dinner.  Almost every time we visited Lake Tahoe we would be in Tahoe City on the north side of the lake.  Our favorite spot on the north side is Rosie’s Cafe.  Rosie’s is fantastic and a perfect little local restaurant.  When we got engaged, they worked with me to set up a special dinner for Merelyn and they even brought us Champagne, on the house, and insisted on serving us cake for Merelyn’s birthday.  It’s a great little place with TONS of personality and we wanted to share it with our friends and family.  So we had breakfast at Rosie’s and met with the manager, Deanne, who cheerfully talked to us about how easy and fun it would be to have our rehearsal dinner there.  It’s the only part of our wedding that will not be in South Lake, but it’s well worth the drive.

We were also in town for the important business of settling on our reception venue.  More than anything else, this had us worried because these places book up FAST in Tahoe and we had chosen our venue without ever having visited them.  We were worried about the decor, the space, the food…

interior of Riva Room at Riva Grill

Interior at Riva Grill Event Room...

Riva Grill sits at Ski Run Marina right on the beach in South Lake Tahoe just behind the dock for the famous Tahoe Queen paddle boat.  We loved the beach front location and it’s only about a mile away from the hotel, an easy walk.  Sunday afternoon we stopped in with our parents in tow to have lunch and meet with the event coordinator there.  We all made sure to order something different off the menu so we could get a good picture of the quality of the food.  The food was amazing!  Their Conchiglie Pasta was fantastic and you can have it with grilled vegetables instead of chicken (for the vegetarians!)  They will also do a vegetarian Risotto (rich, creamy and delicious).  The food turned out to be incredibly good and once we got a look upstairs at the room reserved for our event, we were sold.  It’s a beautiful space, and there is tons of room.  The entire wall facing the lake is glass and the glass doors open to a narrow balcony overlooking the beach.  Their event coordinator, Amanda, was very friendly and helpful.

But we still needed a place for the ceremony.  Our contact at 968 Park Hotel, Cristina, listened to our dilemma one afternoon and recommended we look at Regan Beach.  We separated from our parents after lunch the next day and decided to swing by and take a look.  The beach looked ok, parking was sufficient, it wasn’t ideal…but better than the beach in front of Riva.  Then as we started to drive away we saw a small posting about a wedding.  The small hill above the beach, lined with trees and overlooking the lake, must be the spot.  We kicked below the icy snow and discovered grass and a small brick patio in the middle of the space.  With our imagination we shook off the cold of winter and could see the space as it would look in Ooctober…the trees full and green, maybe just starting to turn color…the grass and shrubs green and full and the beautiful blue lake in the background of it all.

view of Lake Tahoe from Regan Beach

We brought our parents back to show them and get their opinions. But as we stood there in the middle of the snow-covered knoll, we knew this was the place.  Merelyn reached out and grabbed my hands, and whispered, “We’re getting married here…” and I knew by the smile on her face that she was right.

We fell in love in Tahoe…we fell in love with Tahoe…and we can’t wait to start our lives together in Tahoe.

Getting closer to the Big Day…

Lake Tahoe from Heavenly

We’ve been working toward this trip for months now.  Countless emails, phone calls, spread sheets, and folders have gone in to setting up this trip.  It’s the Wedding Planning trip to Tahoe and it’s a big one!  We are finalizing decisions on the ceremony location, the reception dinner location and menu, the rehearsal dinner location and menu, the photographer, DJ and potentially making decisions on the florist and stylists.  We are also staying in the hotel we’ve chosen for our wedding party so we can decide if they will fit our needs.  We have so many things to consider and so many decisions to be made in a three-day time frame next week.  So much time and planning has gone in to this, and so much rides on this week’s trip, it feels like it should be stressful.

But it’s not stressful.

First off, it’s a trip to Tahoe.  I don’t care what you’re going there for, it’s really hard to feel stressed when you go to Tahoe.  It’s one of the most beautiful places on the planet and right now it’s covered in fresh powder.  Even though we are not going to have time for skiing or snowshoeing, I’m still looking forward to being in the mountains.

Merelyn and I on Mount Rose...

The day she said "Yes"...

Another thing that makes this trip exciting is that my parents and my soon-to-be-inlaws get to finally meet in person.  I’m very excited about the opportunity to bring our families together, even if for a short trip.  I really do love that we’ll all get a chance to enjoy Tahoe together and having them both there to help us with some of these important decisions is priceless.

The wedding isn’t until October, but time seems to be flying by and the Big Day will be here before we know it.  I know I can’t wait.  Even though it has made things more difficult to plan, I think Tahoe is the perfect place to have our wedding.  We began our romance in Tahoe, I proposed last year in Tahoe and, in October, we will be married in Tahoe.

Now we get to start thinking about where to have the Honeymoon!

Tradition or Habit…

When I was younger, some of my favorite outdoor excursions were whitewater rafting trips with my Dad. Sometimes it was simply an afternoon trip down a class 2 with my brother and I close to home. Other times we’d be on epic week-long trips with a huge group of river rats floating multiple rafts and kayaks. Usually on the longer trips, the entire group would get together after the trip and, over pizza and beer, add up the trip expenses and settle up on money while rehashing our recent adventures. We often rafted the Illinois and Rogue Rivers in Southern Oregon and our favorite stop was always Wild River Brewing & Pizza Co.  Pizza and beer, after 3 or 4 days on the river, just seems like an appropriate way to end a trip.

Once I had moved away from home, my father and I still found adventure together.  I would often fly back home for river trips or he would travel out to meet me somewhere for a multi-day backpacking trip.  Somehow, without really planning or thinking about it, we would end a long excursion with pizza and beer.  Even in South America after spending 4 days hiking the Inca Trail and visiting Machu Picchu, we returned to Cuzco and found a pizza place where we could end the trip properly.  At some point along the way it just became expected.  I guess that’s how traditions develop.  Slowly, naturally and without planning.  You can’t force a tradition, it just happens or it doesn’t.

These days, I have found myself falling into a similar tradition.  It’s simple really: I don’t like to hike on a full stomach.  That, inevitably, leaves me famished after a long afternoon of hiking.  So, I have developed the habit of stopping in at a local brewery or micro-brew-serving restaurant for lunch/dinner after my hikes.  Any restaurant will do so long as it’s got good local beer and it’s NOT a chain.  I’ve been lucky so far and found some amazing little places to celebrate this extension of an old tradition.  I didn’t really recognize it at first, but as I reconnect with the outdoors and that part of myself that has always loved the outdoors I am also reconnecting with the old traditions that carried me here.  It’s a way for me to give homage to the experiences and traditions that fostered in me a deep and lasting love of Wilderness.

What is even more exciting to me, is the prospect of having traditions that I will someday be able to share with my children.  Traditions that will allow them to have some level of connection with their grandfather.  Traditions that will hopefully encourage the same kind of fondness for nature and adventure that I share with my soon-to-be wife.

I know I’m not the only one.  I want to hear from you guys.  What are your post-adventure traditions?  How do you celebrate a successful excursion?  How did your tradition develop and how will you ensure that it continues?

Tough Mudder Arizona 2012 – Blissfully Insane…

AS A TOUGH MUDDER I PLEDGE THAT…

  • I understand that Tough Mudder is not a race but a challenge…
  • I put teamwork and camaraderie before my course time…
  • I DO NOT WHINE – kids whine…
  • I help my fellow Mudders complete the course…
  • I overcome ALL fears…

I welcomed the cold.  I seemed to be alone in this opinion but the last thing I wanted was to get overheated and dehydrated.  I know that my body will produce plenty of heat to keep me warm over the next 12.5 miles, regardless of how many of the 29 military-style obstacles before us have us plunging into pools of ice-cold water.  I need it to be cold, or this is gonna suck.

I don’t remember exactly when I got it in my head that I wanted to do this race.  I know it started with an interest in signing up for a Warrior Dash when they were here in Arizona in 2010.  I missed that one due to a schedule conflict with a family trip and now, as my fitness and conditioning were improving, the 5k Warrior Dash just didn’t seem like enough.  At some point I mentioned to my brother, half jokingly,  that there was going to be a Tough Mudder in Arizona and I was thinking of signing up.  Soon after, a local gym let me know they were creating a team to take the Tough Mudder challenge.  That was it, I signed up with the gym’s team.  Once I signed up things started falling into place.  My brother and sister-in-law wanted to go too.  They signed up on the same team I was on and started planning a trip to come out to Arizona for the race.  My fiancé didn’t want to be left out, so we signed her up too.  The four of us would be our own team, within a team…and we couldn’t wait!

The Arctic Enema…

The Tough Mudder concept began as a business plan contest submission.  In 2009, Will Dean submitted his business plan where he boasted he could attract “500 people to run a grueling race through mud and man-made obstacles” and his outlandish idea was a semifinalist in the Harvard Business School’s Annual Business Plan Contest.  Since then, the race has exploded across the US and internationally going from an impressive 50,000 participants in 2010 to a projected 500,000 in 2012.  Why has this insane race that delivers on it’s promise to “test your all-around mettle, not just your ability to run in a straight line, on your own, for hours on end, getting bored out of your mind“?  The website explains the race like this,

“Tough Mudder events are hardcore 10-12 mile obstacle courses designed by British Special Forces to test your all around strength, stamina, mental grit, and camaraderie. As the leading company in the booming obstacle course industry, Tough Mudder has already challenged half a million inspiring participants worldwide and raised more than $2 million dollars for the Wounded Warrior Project. But Tough Mudder is more than an event, it’s a way of thinking. By running a Tough Mudder challenge, you’ll unlock a true sense of accomplishment, have a great time, and discover a camaraderie with your fellow participants that’s experienced all too rarely these days.

I think that’s the draw, the important piece of this that inspires people, “you’ll unlock a true sense of accomplishment, have a great time, and discover a camaraderie with your fellow participants that’s experienced all too rarely these days“.

So there we were on a cold Arizona morning, full of nervous energy and bouncing and jogging in place at the starting line to stay warm.  We listened to the National Anthem (which was performed at the start of every wave of runners) and then a rousing, blood-pumping speech which included a group recitation of the Tough Mudder Pledge.  The MC did a remarkable job getting the crowd pumped up before the race, insuring us, once a gain, that this was no walk in the park.  When the gun went off, it was hard NOT to take off at a full-tilt sprint but I kept having to remind myself, “you have 12 miles of this shit!” and paced myself.

I won’t walk you through a blow-by-blow of the race because they are all different.  Each Tough Mudder is designed specifically and uniquely for THAT particular location.  That’s one of the many reasons why so many “Mudder’s” sign-up for multiple races.  They do have some iconic obstacles that you will see in every race like the Arctic Enema, Everest and the Mud Mile.  To see a map and description of what we went through here in Arizona, you can go here and click on the link for the full map.

Nightline recently aired this segment on the 2012 Arizona Tough Mudder…

Sorry about the commercials, it’s worth the wait…

 

When we passed a sign that read “If this were the Warrior Dash, you’d be done” I was incredibly happy I signed up for something more substantial.  Somewhere around mile 11 my opinion was slightly different.  As a whole, we took on every obstacle with enthusiasm.  Not just as a challenge but, honestly, as a break from running.  Many of the obstacles, especially the Berlin Walls, require teamwork and my brother and I found ourselves sitting at the foot of the walls helping numerous people up and over the 12-foot vertical structures.  My brother was one of the few people there who could negotiate the Berlin Walls successfully without assistance (it was impressive to watch).  Likewise, the Everest challenge was specifically designed to require teamwork as you sprint full speed up a slippery, mud-soaked half-pipe wall hoping that someone at the top will grab you before you lose your footing and slide down.  Many slid down before they could be snatched by a helping hand…

As insane as it sounds when you try to tell others about the experience, it was a hell of a lot of fun.  It draws a particular type of person and people not drawn to this type of race have a really hard time understanding why people sign up, and pay good money, to do this to themselves.  For me, I don’t try to talk them in to it or justify it…I just know that for me, and the others that were there with me, it was a great experience and a lot of fun.  As much as we hurt after the fact, as uncomfortable and cold as we were during the race, as much as we complained about being jolted with 10,000 volts of electricity (enough to knock you unconscious for a second or two)…we are already talking about when we’ll be able to sign up for another one.  And THAT is enough of an endorsement to the event right there.

To find a Tough Mudder near you, check the events page here.

 

BTW – I just received an email before posting this article that my finish time was in the top 5% and qualifies me to compete in the World’s Toughest Mudder 2012.  It’s a grueling 24-hour version of the Tough Mudder and I will NOT be participating.  Good to know I qualified though!

ADDED 2.2.2012: This video was just released by Tough Mudder announcing their official partnership with Under Armour for the event clothing. The Arizona 2012 Race was the first official event to see Under Armour T-shirts given to the finishers. This video is very well done and really captures the overall mood of the event…

A Thankful Year…

Well, it appears to be that time of year again…  Winter heavily lumbers in, the frantic holidays quickly approach and our minds instinctually seem to review and quantify the accomplishments of the previous year.  Most of us take special time each year to focus on the happy successes, the wonderful gifts and the hard won accomplishments that make up the highlight reel of our lives over the last 12 months.  It’s a time to give special attention to the things that are so easily taken for granted throughout our hectic, time-crunched day-to-day existence.  Each Winter season, if we are doing something right, the list of things we are truly Thankful for gets longer, stronger and more meaningful.

This year especially, has been a year filled with things to be thankful for.  Even though the year has not been easy and I still struggle in many ways to improve many aspects of my life, I find myself feeling happier and more accomplished than ever.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I’ve struggled with some health issues over the past several years.  I went from a very healthy, active athletic man to lethargic, sedentary and overweight suffering from pain and mobility issues.  Over the last couple of years I’ve managed to get my health problems identified and under enough control for me to take my life back.  I am now back to being healthy and active and feel like I’ve got control of my life again.  This has allowed me to get back to enjoying a life in the outdoors as much as possible.  It’s allowed me to recover a part of myself I felt I had lost and would potentially never find again.  It’s incredibly satisfying to feel like myself again.

For many years, growing up, my family and I had enjoyed and active lifestyle.  As a family, we traveled and spent time outdoors being active and finding adventure.  I took this enjoyment of the outdoors into my adult life after I left California and spent a lot of time exploring the wilderness here in Arizona.  Losing this part of my life was devastating and now that I have it back I am amazingly thankful for being back in to an outdoor lifestyle (I’m sure REI is thankful for this as well!).

This blog is a testament to my renewed excitement at being a part of the outdoor community again.  In rebuilding my sense of self and my attachment to the outdoors I’ve stumbled across an amazing local and on-line community of outdoors enthusiasts and wilderness athletics that share my passion.  Through this blog I’ve been able to share myself with this community and it has served to reinforce and strengthen my relationship with, and passion for, the outdoors.  I’m thankful to ALL of you for visiting, reading, sharing and collaborating on this part of my life.

As thankful as I am about all my new friends this year, I can not be more thankful for old friends who have stood by me through the years.  I’m thankful for the friends and family that have helped as I struggle through maintaining a business in a weak economy, for the friends that have been there for me as I bounce in and out of town and for the friends who have given me a reason to smile and laugh when it seems too hard to do so on my own.  For the rounds of drinks, the trips to and from the airport, Sundays watching football, making sure the dogs get fed when I’m gone, Tuesday Steak Night, the encouragement to get back in shape, for making sure I don’t always hike alone, for help fixing the house, help fixing the truck and a thousand other things that make you guys great…..thank you.

Most of all, I am thankful to have the most amazing, beautiful, fun, energetic and exciting woman in my life.  Though our time together these days is limited, we make the most of it.  And this summer she gave me yet another wonderful thing to be thankful for when I asked her to marry me and she said ‘YES’.  So this year, I am very thankful for an amazing relationship with an incredible woman who, by this time next year, will be my beautiful wife.

Hardships and challenges aside, this has been a great year and is hopefully just a hint of the happiness to come.  I wish EVERYONE a happy, healthy and successful Holiday Season.

Message in a bottle…

DADSeptember 12th was my father’s birthday.  Since he passed away in 2005, I have always done something special to commemorate his birthday.  It’s a ritual that really is more for me than anyone else.  It used to be that I would simply go to his favorite restaurant in town and have lunch, usually with a friend.  We’d toast to his birthday and I would have my chance to reflect on the friend I lost.  A couple years ago, that restaurant closed.  I’ve struggled to find a new ritual to fill this void.

This year, I traveled to Houston to see my fiance during the week of my dad’s birthday.  My trip there was scheduled to overlap with a visit from her parents (my future in-laws!).  We visited, we traveled, we had a good time.  Funny thing is, I had such a good time with her and her family that I nearly forgot about my annual ritual to honor my dad.  Perhaps the ritual I needed all along was to spend the day enjoying time with the family that I still have and the new family I am gaining.

My father and I traveled together as often as we could in my adulthood.  We hiked, biked, rafted and camped everywhere.  We would spend months planning the next excursion.  Our greatest adventure was in 1998 when we both went to Peru together for nearly a month of hiking, rafting and exploring.  The trip culminated in a hike across the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.  On that hike, there was only one small village along the trail, high in the Andes, that had a store….a store that carried BEER!  My dad and I shared an amazing beer together somewhere around 10,000 ft along the Inca Trail.  That beer was a bottle of a Peruvian beer called Cristal.  I’ve never seen it anywhere other than Peru.

The day after my dad’s birthday this year, I was feeling incredibly guilty about missing out on celebrating his day.  I was feeling especially guilty about the fact that I was having such a good time with my future in-laws and fiance that I nearly forgot altogether that it was his birthday.  That next day at the grocery store as we browsed the beer isle looking for a favorite beer of mine I can only find when I go to Houston, I found a 6-pack of Cristal.  I’d never seen it at that store before, but there it was.  It hit me like a punch to the gut.  I know it sounds crazy but it felt like a message…to focus on what I have and not dwell on what I’ve lost.

As it turns out, the delay of doing something special for my dad allowed me to stumble on to something, possibly, much more meaningful.

 

Big News!

Engaged on Mount Rose near TahoeMerelyn and I had been planning a trip up to Tahoe for her birthday.  It was a fantastic trip in a beautiful place with the most amazing woman…how could I NOT ask her to marry me?

In reality, I’ve wanted to ask her to marry me since our first kiss.  I know, it sounds cheesy, but it’s absolutely true.  So, it was just a matter of getting some of the technicalities out of the way: a place, a ring and a few phone calls.  So when we started talking about a trip to Tahoe…I had to make sure everything was in place to make sure I was ready to propose.  I mean really, a week in Tahoe (where we fell in love) on her birthday almost exactly a year after we got together…It couldn’t have been more perfect a setting.

So, it’s official!  I’m engaged to be married to the woman of my dreams.

Now if we can just figure out how to live in the same city…

Family Time…

209277_2013516463388_6024188_oThe trip was a success!  We had a fantastic time this past week at Disney World. Though the crowds and lines can be frustrating at times, the overall experience was great. I’m so glad that not only do I have the most amazing woman in my life, but that her family is also amazing. I am very grateful to have been invited along to a big family vacation.  I had a great time hanging out with her sisters kids, they were so much fun.  I just wish I had been able to spend more time with her parents, they are great people.

It’s been nearly a year and even thought we’ve been separated much more than either of us would like, I still feel like the luckiest guy in the world. The only thing that could make me happier is to have her close enough to see every day. In the mean time, we do what we can. I’m just happy to be a part of her life and a part of her family.

Holiday Adventure…

This holiday season is going to be one hell of an adventure!

Tickets are bought and plans are made.  I will be flying to Oregon to visit my family the weekend before Christmas.  Why the weekend before?  It’s the time that fits best with everyone’s work schedule.  My mother, who works too much already as it is, is working on Christmas Day.  I know, she’s nuts…we love her anyway.

After a few days in Winston, a 3 and a half hour drive to Portland will catch me a flight back to Phoenix.  I will have about 24 hours in Phoenix before I fly out to Reno.  I will then be spending Christmas Eve driving the love of my life back to Phoenix so we can spend Christmas Day together at my house.  Shortly after that, we hop back in the car and drive to Houston where she can wait for all of her Earthly possessions to show up at her new place there.

It looks like I will have about enough time to get one good night’s sleep before I catch a flight from Houston, back to Phoenix.  Work has been crazy busy this month (AWESOME!) so I need to get back as soon as possible to get right back to work and make sure I hit those deadlines and make my clients happy.

It should be a fun Holiday season but it’s going to be the 2010 version of Planes, Trains and Automobiles except without the fun-loving travelling shower curtain ring salesman.