This Blog

This blog is dedicated to explorations of spirit, life, adventure, and people. I hope that it encompasses much more than the actions of people, but rather creates a more complete picture of what it means to be an athlete and a person in the outdoor community.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Boof Storks

A New Kayak Team.

The Boof Storks had just come into existence. The kayaking team, whose creation was merely an esoteric reference moments before, quickly blossomed into a team that had a manager, a marketer, recruiter, and four loyal members. We consisted of a 31 year old PhD Student, Helen, a self-proclaimed libertarian tech wizard from the bay, Lauren, and a 15 year old boy whose dry top consisted of no more than one fully functioning gasket, Louis. As Lauren adjusted the velcro visor she had attached to her WRSI helmet, Louis, the 15 year old practiced throwing his paddle and tucking, in preparation for the 50+ foot waterfalls he would be running in 3-5 years. We were about to run the South Fork of the American, Chili Bar section. “Hand of god me please?” I was asked as someone prepared to practice their roll.

Louis paddled hard over a current between two eddies while one of the girls waited for her turn. Back and forth they went, occasionally having to paddle hard to catch the eddy and climb back in. “Kayaking is the only sport that truly allows you to go to new places as you get better” Helen mused as we floated down. Helen wanted to see rivers, see canyons that you can’t explore except through kayaking. Though a smiled also graced her face as she slid across a wave to make it from eddy to eddy.

“What a sick boof!” Louis turned his boat downstream and charged over a rock about 3 inches out of the water. He took a stroke and then quickly pulled both of his arms up to about head level with his wrists cocked down, as if waiting for the impact of a perfect boof off a 20 footer.

We pull over to surf an eddy made by an underwater rock, the front edge of which you can practice surfing. Lauren pulls onto it and practices drawing herself across, turning down stream. She flips and her hands pop out of the water. Her blades both are out of the water, she has a false start, then tries again. The paddle jerks across the water but her hips roll the boat over and she is up! “Whooot Whoot!” The boof storks cheer as Lauren has just combat rolled for the first time. This is her 4th time down chili bar.

Louis pulls up to me “What is the biggest drop you have ever run?”. I think back to the years of kayaking, of chasing rain, or snow, reading trip reports, and meeting people at put-ins I had never met, of being in different countries and cold hands, hands that could barely put on a skirt. “Don’t know, sometimes things go easy and I guess it doesn’t seem that big anymore, and sometimes things go wrong and it seems harder than it looks” I say. “I have been injured on class II and on the shore more times than on class V” I pull my knees out of my thigh braces wishing the next rapid was closer.

“What is the biggest drop you have ever run?” I ask, referring to his skiing. He says something but it is a name of some move I have never heard of. “Funny thing is that some of the hardest things I have done is when it is just me, Paul, and Hallie”. Funny thing, you would think you would do the toughest stuff when it mattered most, on the biggest trips, in other countries, when people are filming or something is on the line. II thought back and all I could remember is when it was me and two friends just looking at a drop, a lot of trust in them, and a rare opportunity. “I quit my job to kayak more” he says. I smile a little and lower my eyebrows, and let out a little laugh “Oh, yeah, is that what you told your boss?” he isn’t paying attention anymore, paddling away to catch an eddy.

“We are at trouble maker” Helen says nervously. She sees an umbrella, which is normally the signal we are at something important, because there are photographers. It turns out it is just a person sitting on a beach, we still have a few more bends. I can sympathize with the nervous itch, the waiting for it to be over, to have the success, and yet we live for that opportunity, the one we simultaneously don’t want to do.

“Should I go direct?” She asks. “I think so, kayaking is a fine line between fun and progress, and sometimes you have to learn where your skills end to know what to work on”. She peers around the corner and I peel out to catch the eddy. She peels out once I am in the eddy. We always talk about failure, about letting people fail in order to grow. Put it into practice and you get judged, you look like you are making poor decisions. It is the aftermath of those choices that leads to the real gold of failure. It is the recommitment to the weaknesses that were exposed.

She flips as she rounds the corner, bashes her shoulder and swims. She pops and looks at me. “Can I run it again” She says. “I think I know what to do now”. Every kayaker has a list of failures, of swims and flips, and bumps and bruises, but what do we get out of those things? Are we more wise? What do you get out of failure?

Maybe more than you think...

Monday, October 26, 2015

A change in perspective

Funny how a slight shift in where you stand will change the way you see things. 

Monday, October 12, 2015


We don’t ever exactly get it right. We always try to explain risk as a standalone trait of adventure athletes, as if it is unique to us. Much of society is exempted because they don’t brand themselves as “extreme athletes”, so they don’t think “Why do I do this?”. When things are accepted by society as an outlet it makes sense. Why do I spend my free time running full boar into another man carrying a small scrap of cured pig skin? Everyone else does it.

I am a little tired of people trying to explain what we do. We do what everyone does. Being alive is a risk, and being fully human is being completely in touch with your vulnerability.

Every day we should be exalted by the fact that we survivedBut we don’t get that. Our lives are a miracle and that fact is lost everyday because we are now so insulated against the riskiness of being alive. People die because a cell malfunctions and doesn’t stop reproducing, people die because they didn’t look left, people die because of a gust of wind. We are fully human when we recognize this. When we see that today was amazing because we are here.

Everything should achieve that, every action and moment. But it doesn’t, so now we need sensational experience to bring us back to our humanity. Watch the most popular TED talks, they talk about vulnerability, talk about exposing ourselves fully and living with courage. I spent two weekends in a row in two very different dangerous situations. The first weekend I spent completely exposing my emotional self in a rite of passage with the ManKind Project.  The next weekend I spent completely exposing myself physically on the SF feather. It surprised me how similar the experiences were.

The feeling of being alive. The feeling of being human, being proud to be alive, to have a deep sense of gratitude for the opportunity to know how special this life is. That is why we take risks, emotional and physical, to recognize the beauty of this opportunity known as life.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

I've seen you dance

You might think that once you have kayaked with someone you trust them. 

Or once they have saved your life you trust them. 

I say you trust someone once you've seen them dance, or refuse. 

And that is what the cherry creek race is all about.

But there were some other things happening.  Starting with a fantastic night view.

Scouting Lumsden, with some trepidation

 Paul Ramseth probing

Coming out clean



The Leap

 See, there are tons of people kayaking! It isn't a dying sport! There are at least ten of us.


Monday, June 8, 2015

True Value

Don’t count your life in years, but friends. 

Count your experiences by laughs not tears. 

There aren’t a lot of times that you have an experience where you think “Yeah, that was it”. It opens your eyes to a new paradigm, or shifts the way that you think about how the world should operate. 

I recently led a trip from Sacramento to Bodega Bay on bikes that students and I had built ourselves, or at least taken apart, painted, and fully reassembled. This trip was based on grit, street smarts, and the real human experience. This is what we learned:

The right values are those that continue forever. The human experience will continue to be the human experience despite technology changes, cultural shifts, geographic and political upheaval and disequilibrium; human life will always be human life. And in fact, all these things just take us away from what is happening in the moment. 

I sat in a house that I grew up in, with students of mine. They looked at my yearbook and thought about what it must have been like to be me at their age, while I thought about what it must have been like to be my parents looking at me at their age. What a full circle it was. To both be mirrors for the others, reflecting on being older and being younger simultaneously. 

We learned a lot. We learned that people are what create the world, and if we pay attention to it we can create what we want. The most important point is to be aware of what we want and be working towards it, and don’t take no for a final answer, just take it as an intermediate answer that is on the way to yes. Here is a quote that we heard from an activist who had made a difference in how people interacted with the world around them:

“Always make room for alternatives. Always”

Being eccentric means knowing yourself and not selling out. Those who are eccentric are the same people who change the world, because they don't accept the status quo. Riding your bike is eccentric. 

Riding a bike means freedom. You aren’t beholden to some beast you don’t understand, and in some ways traveling by bike is actually faster, because the traveling becomes part of it, it isn't an intermediate step between experiences. It is an experience. 

When we travel by car we actually just think of that as a subtractive amount of time, like a blank experience. We often think to ourselves “What am I going to do while I drive?”, but if we can flop that on it’s head and bike, the biking is the experience. I started wondering by the end “What will happen when I bike?”, which is a far more interesting question. When you think like that things do happen. You smell mint, you eat a mulberry or an apple. You sleep in a kale field.

 You take a nap at a diner. It all folds into a series of moments that are no longer divided into boxes. The traveling is a part of your day. You celebrate the climb with a snack and a high five, maybe a discussion about the quality of the road or the culture of the drivers on that particular climb.

You discuss the experience, which is what constitutes our life. It isn't about your image, or what you post to facebook, or the clothes you wear. You aren't living a meta life, where you judge and watch your life unfold. You are actually just alive, and it is quite simple and elegant. You are just there to hear the tale of life from another, to watch and experience life as it happens. 

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

On a Journey

Knowing where you are in a journey can help you weather the bumps. 

Here is the heroes journey, as written by Joseph Campbell. 

Obviously, the most important aspect of this diagram is that you are Bengal with an eye patch. Never lose sight of the fact that you are Bengal with an eye patch... and a green bowtie.

if you have ever delved into anything, this should look pretty familiar once you think critically about the steps. I have felt these things so many times, the frustration or yearning that leads to a call to adventure, the fear of said adventure and the reluctance associated with it, the mental barriers you have to it or refusal of the call, a friend or guide who helps you into it(suggesting that you should apply to a job, or run a rapid) or the supernatural aid, the full submersion into a lifestyle of kayaking, skiing, religion, a job. The list goes on.

At any time in your life a few of these journeys are happening, hopefully they are not all at the road of trials at the same time. I think that many relationships and careers get messed up because both of them are at the road of trails stage at the same time, when really they need to be offset, along with other major parts of your life. I found this to be a cool tool to bring perspective to the journey that is life, and recognize that there are a few places where the road is hard. There are also a few places where the road is exulting. If we know that is what we are supposed to be feeling and what comes next, we can live it fully, and live fearlessly through that experience.

Enjoy the Journey.