No Mail

What if you travel to the mailbox every day and find it empty? What if you sent out a request for funding as a year-end appeal and have not received a response? What if you asked people to provide their insights in a brief poll on an easy-to-return postcard and none returned? What if you announced you were going out of business, and nobody responded with good wishes or an inquiry about what happened?

It is convenient to think that our efforts do not inspire them just because we have yet to hear from our fans. I spoke with a thru-hiker who completed the Appalachian Trail. He remarked on how almost everyone adopted a trail name. Some were memorable, and one, in particular, stood out. A hiker who was roughly ten days ahead of him would sign in at various huts, peaks, and significant trail junctions. An individual that my friend had never met was an enduring source of inspiration. Each time he read this forerunner’s trail name in a trail log, he was inspired to keep going. He never caught or met this backpacker, but it influenced him to reach Mt. Katahdin in Maine and to share the story years later.

Your work might be creating the draft pulling along a whole peloton of invisible followers, and your endurance keeps them active in the adventure. Even if we cannot track every view, like, ride on, and accolade, we may be the linchpin for an unofficial team.

Question of the Day

What if we start each day or meeting with a framing question? Something that provides insights and intention. Not a rhetorical question about how we can be more awesome but more on the generative side.

Yesterday, my question of the day was, ‘how might I find adventure while being in a mixed mindset that is trending towards adversity?’ An hour into my road bike ride and I was rolling on my rear rim at 12 mph, a victim of a second flat tire in a ten minute span. I limped towards a bike shop I found on Google Maps which was my last oasis before making the dreaded call for a ride home. Ben’s Bikes quickly outfitted me with two new tubes and air cartridges, plus the good karma of a bulldog who was clearly in-charge of all front door greeting operations.

Back on course, I was relieved to be riding and not headed home in a sag wagon. Quickly, I encountered another cyclist who was riding the same direction and we spent the next two hours sharing a great adventure. I able to guide through the less obvious sections of the bike path (my new cycling companion was on his first lap of The Loop in Tucson) and he provided great conversation and enthusiasm for being out for a ride.

Employing a framing question provided context for the day. I unexpectedly experienced both adversity and adventure. With a bit of focus, I was prepared to head a few more chapters into the journey when the plot took an unexpected turn.

How might questions created a more remarkable experiences?

Fear and Focus

Backcountry skied the other day. The avalanche forecast projected a green day (safe conditions) and the weather pattern has been consistent. My skiing partner and I met at the trailhead in the early morning and found ourselves facing much colder conditions than the previous days and boiler plate snow pack. The snow forming the uphill skin track was concrete and wind had blown across exposed areas leaving a surface that was hard to set a ski edge. It was tenuous to avoid slipping down the slope. We proceeded, in search of the shaded side of our summit and the temptation of soft snow and memorable turns. We eventually found favorable conditions for descending and made a few long laps in colder, softer snow.

What struck me in the moment as we crossed the most exposed gradient that would not relent and blocked a ski edge purchase, was the mindset battle between fear and focus. Fear was easy to access. Look down the 1,500 foot slope and see a perfect sliding surface. No trees to hit, no changes in grade to break an unwilling luge participant. The focus was harder and required purposeful thought: relax the ankles, stay perpendicular to the slope, grip the poles in an offset fashion with the uphill pole requiring a lower grasp than the downhill pole, look for the best line to traverse and seek micro breaks in the snow surface that accommodate a ski edge.

Both mindsets were available to me within micro-seconds. I toggled back and forth between them before settling on focus. However, the accessibility of both realities demonstrated the ease with which an adventure doubles as a panic room.

How might we realize that one individual’s expedition might be the terror that keeps another person awake at night? How might we check-in with our colleagues to confirm that we are focused on the work that matters and not the possible disaster that looms just there? How might we make room for the conversations that recognize danger but does not amplify it unnecessarily?

Adventures that inspire others

When we share our ideas and adventures, it creates new possibilities. I had been thinking about climbing Decker Peak in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains for a few years. Three weeks ago, I crossed paths with two fast-moving climbers headed to the peak via a long approach. They gave me a quick synopsis of the route and then sped off. After completing that backpacking trip, I used to read climber’s reviews and insights. Then I read a 2015 trip report on Idaho Alpine Zone. The trip report put together a route I had not considered and had me mapping out a new itinerary. So we returned to the mountains for a three-day backpack trip and spent nine hours on the middle day hiking to the base of the peak, ascending, and then returning to camp. Creating a route employing the knowledge of those that had tackled the climb beforehand made for an optimistic mindset. Even though we may travel alone, following the steps of those who have proceeded us changes our outlook on what is possible.

Route map of the 2015 group

The Spirit of Zugunruhe (Migratory Restlessness)

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I enjoy stories about wayfinding.  Individuals oriented towards a vision that will forever change their worldview, regardless of success or failure.  I read an excerpt from The Sun is a Compass in the New York Times and immediately downloaded the book.  I found myself engrossed in a remarkable journey.  As an adventurous couple prepare for a 4,000 mile journey across Alaska and Canada, they navigate the perils of planning and encountering the unknown.  Caroline and Pat, embody something of a modern Lewis and Clark mixed with the spirit of Klondike Gold Rush, and channeling the naturalist John Muir.  The story follows their epic adventure, one which I cannot easily fathom.

They capture the essence of wayfinding throughout the quest.

Pat has never regarded a to-do list as a worthy endeavor.  Perhaps it’s how he maintains his optimism, working as hard and as fast as he can, dreaming only of the outcome, not the possibility of failure.

Imagine dreaming so big that the scale cannot be represented without being distorted.

I create a giant timetable of what needs to go where and on which date.  Pat tapes dozens of topographic maps to the wall and trace our intended routes on each of them.  When the maps begin to tilt crookedly, I snap at Pat to be more careful before he calmly informs me that it’s not his sloppy taping job, but the curvature of the earth that’s responsible.  The scale is that big.

They embrace disruption constantly.

In order to stay on schedule, we have to follow the ocean’s clock, not our own…at the edge of a volatile and unforgiving ocean, waiting is our safety margin.

And, they recognize the importance of adapting to the real world, despite what the map suggests.

Now I realize a line on a map is only that.  We’ve planned our route around elevation contours and river bends, but we have no idea what we will find really.  Everything can change in a day. In an instant.

What are you working on that is so big that it cannot be fully visualized?  What feels monumental?  What is holding us back from striking out into wild territories, knowing that the journey will transform us and those we seek to inspire?



Sometimes the journey is difficult and we seek safety and certainty about the outcome of the adventure.  Sometimes the conditions turn, our assumptions prove wrong, and the final result tips towards failure.  When these moments finally pass, we are able to reflect back with sharper details and sensations than most moments.  I recall how cold my hands felt at the end of a winter training session when I under dressed and the headwind generated polar windchill factors.  I hunker down when I feel intense heat, memories of crawling into structure fires as a volunteer firefighter.   I skip a breathe thinking of my front road bike tire unable to maintain traction as I slid across the pavement, five hours into a twelve hour cycling competition.  I see traces of the cycling wound, my fingers are haunted by a phantom numbness, and the heat from a bonfire sets off a reflex to go low.

These memories from our wildest adventures add depth to our being.  They do not define us because we will find new journeys with equally perilous outcomes.  To believe we are defined is to suggest that we have finished exploring.  Seek out the difficult and challenging.  The reason we continue to plan and set goals is due to the human element and that is what adds depth to the journey.