Antarctica

It was 2014 when I sent my application in for the half marathon taking place in Antarctica. A couple of months later, I was waitlisted without an estimated date or time for acceptance. My assumption was it would take a year. It seemed reasonable, like most marathons, a year or a little less is about when they open. But not this one.

Four years later, I got the green light to send in the rest of my deposit. The race folks confirmed I would be running in the 2019 race. A full five years later. But, hey, it was official. I had a room on a ship going to Antarctica, and this would be my final half marathon.

The problem with such a long waitlist is I’m no longer in the marathon-running shape I was in back in 2014 or 15 or even 16. I’m older and slower and have really started to enjoy not running for hours, not training during what were supposed to be slow weekend mornings, not enduring a foam rolling after the run. No more ice on my knees and piles of sweaty running gear filling up my laundry hamper.

Come on, I tell myself, trying to get motivated, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. How can I not take it on, and try to enjoy it regardless of how old I feel, or how old I really am? Maybe with all of this training and running to come, I might feel younger again. But deep down I doubt it. It’s more likely, I’ll feel older.

So I’m starting slowly. I’ve signed up to work out with a personal trainer once or twice a week depending on our schedules, just to give myself a base level of fitness. I have a history of getting injured while training and I think it’s because I’m not really that fit before I jump right in to running longer distances. I’ve been working with the trainer for about three weeks now.

I’ve also signed up for the first 5k I’ve attempted in so, so long. It’s a hilly up and down, out and back trail race. Training for that has also begun. Training, meaning, I put on my shoes and attempt to meet the distances, but mostly I’m tired and winded.

Regardless of my fitness level, I am excited about visiting Antarctica. Not many people get the opportunity to visit that continent. For me, Antarctica will be my seventh and last remaining continent to step foot on. I’m pretty stoked.

Now, I just need to get that running and fitness thing moving in the right direction. I’ve missed a couple of training runs already this week. It’s time to get in gear or I’ll never know what it was like to complete my last half on the most remote continent in the world.


5k training run

Signed up for a 5k in December. It will be my first trail race in preparation for my last, and most ambitious, half marathon in Antarctica in March.

But right now, my fitness level is embarrassing. I’m so out of shape when I run even short distances, I’m winded for the first five or ten minutes. Other runners say that will go away, but I’m not feeling it. This is my second week and I’m still fatigued. If I don’t start running now, by setting small goals like the 5k in early December, I can’t fathom being prepared for a much longer – four times longer – run in five months.

The training race I picked is called Summit Rock, and its organized from one of my favorite local companies, Brazen Racing. When I’ve run with them in the past, many years ago, I found they ran well-supported races and a good post-race spread. They have a great community of runners too. For Summit Rock, racers can partake in three distances: 5k, 10k, and half marathon. Located in Saratoga, Sanborn County Park has a challenging foot trail that increases in elevation for about four miles before leveling off.

Since I’m running the 5k, the course is straight up – about 2200 feet of elevation gain – and at the halfway point, runners turn around and head back down 2200 feet to the start/finish line. I don’t have trail running shoes, so I’ll use my road shoes and see how things go.

While I’ve sold or donated most of my possessions, oddly enough, they didn’t include trail running shoes or winter running gear, which is what I’ll need for the half marathon in Antarctica.

I haven’t started to think about the actual packing list for Antartica. When I get to it, I expect to have warm, waterproof trail running shoes on it, along with a solid race-day winter running getup, which I’ll get to test out during my cold winter training runs.

Until then, I’ll keep hitting the warm trails, working the hills, and feeling the exhaustion. Send love and support.


When a minimalist buys an iPhone

My 2018 New Year’s resolution was to go minimalist. It’s been a fantastic and sometimes trying journey. Over the past ten months, I’ve given away, donated, tossed out, or sold hundreds of my possessions, ranging from camera gear to camping goodies, t-shirts to tableware, and nearly a dozen pairs of my favorite shoes. I’ve made incredible progress, my closet is down to only a handful of shirts, a couple of jackets, two pairs of jeans, and two pairs of hiking pants.

For the most part, I’ve stuck to my resolution and haven’t purchased anything, besides consumables or experiences, that wasn’t absolutely necessary to my minimalist endeavor, i.e., a hole opened on the sole of my only pair of Chuck Taylors, so I replaced them. (There was the scooter, but that’s a different story.)

In January, when I was claiming my minimalistic intentions, I hadn’t thought about the terrible weakness that would plaque me nine months down the road: Apple products.

With the launch of the new iPhone Xs Max, everything – my whole plan – fell apart. The previous nine months seemed like a sham. Before I knew what was happening, I was ordering the new iPhone as soon as it was available.

Although, I was gifting my current iPhone as soon as I had the new device in my Apple-loving hands, I realized, technically this was not a “consumable,” like the windshield wipers that had worn out and or the water bottle that had melted in the dishwasher.

Nothing was wrong with my current iPhone. It was in perfect working condition. I just wanted the bigger screen, the better camera, the faster processing. It would be a stretch to say the current device wasn’t really meeting my needs or it was broken.

So what was happening to me? Was this a bad habit? Consumerism at its worst? Me at my worst? Was I being vein? Gullible? Idiotic? I didn’t know for sure. I had gone almost ten months without indulging in commerce, retail therapy, impulse purchases – heck, I’d even gone without altogether when I could have technically replaced an item or two.

But it was an iPhone. My iPhone was my camera, alarm, wallet, email, calendar, messenger, blogging platform, notepaper, dictionary, news source, meditation tool, family connector – the list never ends. It was so much inside a single wonderfully designed, beautiful piece of magical glass.

Images of the larger screen, faster processing, and better battery life danced in my head. Eventually, needing no more convincing, I broke my resolution and bought it.

Being inside a mall was a surreal experience in and of itself. I hadn’t stepped foot in a shopping center in almost a year. There were the bright lights, shiny new goods lining the floor to ceiling windows, and hordes of people.

I had ordered the iPhone online and planned on picking it up at the scheduled time. I showed up, waited in line for about ten minutes, took a call for work, and by the time the conversation was over, I was being escorted into the store. In quick order, the store associate brought out the new iPhone Xs Max, and I left happy as ever.

Ten days later, I’m still loving my choice and the new device. I have not a sliver of buyer’s remorse or guilt. Without a doubt, I’d do it all over again.

My advice to anyone who might be struggling with buying or not buying an item is to run it through a few decision-gates in your own mind.

  • Are you increasing your total possessions by buying the new item or is it replacing something else to be donated, gifted, or sold?
  • Have you spent less than seventy-two hours contemplating the purchase or is this something you’ve been swooning over for the better part of a month or year?
  • Will this new possession make you happy for the next few weeks or will it satisfy your needs and receive daily usage for the foreseeable future?

If it’s the latter options, you might be beating yourself up for no good reason.

The wonderful thing about minimalism is there are no real rules, it’s simply a way of living. The goal is to focus on only the very important and remove anything that is not, so one might live an intentional and richly meaningful life.

If replacing your old shoes or sunglasses or dare I say it, technology, with the latest model is going to make you happy and help you focus on what’s important to you, then stop spending a minute longer on worrying about it, and go get it.


Throw that Axe, You’ll Feel a Little Better

Who would have thought axe throwing would be so badass? Well, probably quite a few folks who’ve been doing it a lot longer than me. It’s not just the badass-ness of the sport that is so intoxicating, the act of throwing just feels good.
While in my hometown of Chicago, I was able to hit a Cubs game and the annual Lung Run, which I’ve run every year since we lost my grandmother to lung cancer. My weekend would have been complete had I done nothing else, but a friend suggested we try axe throwing.
“Sure, why not,” I said, totally game.
Not only could axe throwing be a useful skill in a zombie apocalypse or in a SHTF situation, but I was curious how well I would do. It was for these reasons, I found myself at an axe throwing bar around 10pm on Saturday night taking a lesson from twenty-something year-old Ashley at Bad Axe Throwing on the north side of Chicago.
The place was set up like batting cages but a little closer together. You don’t need that much room to throw axes, just a high (or protected) ceiling, strong flooring, and some fencing that will hold. The back wall had a couple of wooden planks with bullseyes drawn on them.
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After we signed a few waivers, Coach Ashley gave us a quick lesson.
“Hold it straight above your head, keep your wrists straight, and release so it rotates once and then hits,” she said.
She released the axe and the blade landed on the board with a resounding, whack! My friends and I nodded and exchanged glances. We were impressed. There’s a satisfaction in hearing the axe land right into the wood and stick.
Although it’s a little fuzzy, as all history seems to be, axe throwing was used in war mostly as far back as the vikings, Celts, and other cold climate hooligans. They actually go way back to the Neolithic period.
In general, warriors didn’t throw them, unless they were urgently trying to kill someone before that someone killed them and wanted to avoid hand-to-hand or axe-to-axe fighting, but axe-making and usage in combat was in full swing thousands of years ago.
Even with that violent and bloody history of the axe, I still wanted a piece of the action.
It did not disappoint. There was a feeling of toughness, self sufficiency, primitive strength, and badass-ness that went into the motion.
And when you hit a bullseye, boom!
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There was a feeling that came over you, like being in what psychologists call flow or the zone, but you feel — no, you know — it’s going to hit as soon as you let it go.
When it didn’t it, or when it was dumb luck, it was a different feeling. But, that right there, that knowing in flow or presence, was so worth the time and money.
In Chicago, we paid $20 an hour plus tax and we tipped our coach, which came out to around $28 per person.
For an hour or so, I was completely present learning, throwing, watching my friends, celebrating, and throwing some more. I worked up a nice sweat too. Not only was it fun to learn a new “sport,” but the repetition and physical exertion made any anxiety or stress I might had been carrying melt away.
Almost anyone can do it. It’s about technique, not strength or athleticism. Way more interesting than darts, and blows any other target games away. Take a seat, skeet ball.
Axe throwing – highly recommended. Go do it. Pick up that axe and let it fly. You’ll know what I mean when you hit the bullseye.

An Ode to Montana

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Montana is an incredibly beautiful, not to mention enormous, state. From east to west it’s about the equivalent of driving from Chicago to New Jersey. Crazy big.

About a decade ago, I had the opportunity to do some backpacking inside Glacier National Park. It was one of the most memorable backpacking trips, from seeing a massive and somehow majestic moose standing only a few meters away to crossing a waist-high, ice-cold mountain river hoisting my camera and the rest of my pack above my head in an attempt to keep it dry. We also came across a mama bear with her two nine-month-old cubs. Luckily, no mauling ensued.

When I arrived in Bozeman earlier this month, the little airport felt welcoming and cozy. It was built like a mountain lodge with raised wooden beams supporting a roof that takes on an average of seventy-two inches of snow each year. Outside, the Montana that I recalled entering many years ago, with it’s clean air, grand mountains nestled on an eternal horizon, and impossibly large clouds somehow not blocking the warm sun that fell on my face, greeted me kindly. Although many years ago, I had landed in Kalispell almost three hundred miles away, this was the same big sky country. It felt like an embrace from an old friend.

We stayed at a newly built dwelling called the Sage Lodge in Pray, MT. They were still putting the finishing touches on the rooms. When we checked in, we were missing oddities like lightbulbs and the sliding screen door handle. Strange, but the staff were mostly friendly and you couldn’t beat the location, which was almost on top of the Yellowstone River and a thirty-five minute drive straight across the Wyoming boarder into Yellowstone National Park.

Since taking on the minimalist way of life, there wasn’t much packed in my suitcase. It was light as a feather. Two t-shirts, an athletic long sleeve pullover, a SmartWool shirt, hiking pants, jeans, socks, hiking shoes, sandals, pjs, undergarments, a hat, sunglasses, and a toiletry bag. (Minimalism aside, I was glad the lodge we stayed in had laundry because by the third day, I needed them all cleaned.)

I’ve heard fishing is good for the mind, body, and soul, and we were in the best fly fishing spot in the world, so I figured why not. And it did not disappoint. On the Yellowstone River, there are rules about which fish you can keep, which you must release, and others you must keep or kill. According to the law, we released all our catches.

Every time I’d get a bite, I’d “set” my pole, which basically means pull it up as hard and fast as you can, and hope there’s a fish on the other end of it. I missed most times, but managed to net two beautiful rainbow trout. The experience of pulling them in, feeling their weight on the other side of the pole, and then guiding them gently into the net was invigorating. I’d wet my hands, hold them for a quick picture, and then they went back into the water hopefully a little wiser for the wear.

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We also spent a day in Yellowstone. Did a six-mile hike out and back to the Imperial Geyser, saw a few bison, a bighorn sheep, and watched good ole Ole Faithful do its thing too. Impressive.

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When the four days were over, I was sad to leave Montana. There is a rugged wildness, a real wilderness, about the state. And yet, I felt safe and supported by the mountains, the rivers and streams, the vast earth. Maybe it was just nice to get out of the city and see the stars. Whatever it was, I want to go back.

People say Montana winters are a “dry cold,” which I guess is supposed to be less cold somehow. I don’t know about that, but I might go back this winter just to test out the theory. I’m thinking snowshoeing or cross country skiing. Anything to get outside, even in the freezing temperatures, to be with those mountains and rivers, and under that big sky again.


Less stuff, more meaning

motorcycle on narrow road

It’s been almost six months and yes, I’ve lost a little steam, but no, I haven’t given up.

I’ve continued to whittle down my wardrobe to just five button-down shirts, two jackets, three pairs of jeans, four Smartwool shirts, and a handful of t-shirts. I went from almost a dozen pairs of Chuck Taylors down to three. I’ve still got a lot of work to do on my socks. I don’t know why, but I just can’t bring myself to go there, as if I might – or they might – run out on me.

I haven’t bought anything new since – no strike that. I haven’t bought any new clothing or shoes or socks or undergarments or hats or things to wear since January. But I did buy a new bike.

In my attempt to cut down on gasoline consumption coupled with my desire to ride a motorbike, after much debating, I finally purchased a little Honda Ruckus. However, I did sell all of of my other so called transportations possessions, with the exception of my little GTI, before I bought it, including two road long boards, a beautiful Specialized road bike, a skateboard, and did I mention all those shoes?

With the purchase of the scooter came a few other possessions, mainly a helmet, faux leather jacket and gloves, all for safety. Because my closet was cleaner and more austere than ever, it was easy to find a spot for each. The helmet looks badass on the shelf where once upon a time too many pairs of mom-jeans sat folded and unused.

On the whole, I feel good about the new possessions because every time I get on that bike, I smile. I feel alive and happy. I have fun. Most people who ride a motorbike will tell you there is something wonderfully therapeutic about the experience. It’s inexplainable but palpable and real. One day we might want to swap Xanax or Zoloft or Prozac or Percocet for a an hour or just thirty minutes on a bike to see the results. Imagine the possibilities.

But back to the acquisition of the bike. It’s made my commute so much more fun and in some ways meaningful. It’s a strange paradox. By getting rid of so much clutter, so many other possessions, I had space to think and feel and figure out that I truly wanted a bike. Then take the action to go get one.

I wanted to reduce my petrol consumption and usage and increase fun and meaningful life experiences. Now, I get to do all of it while doing something that was once mundane, like commuting to and from work. My commute is mundane no more. It’s an adventure.

As the summer progresses, I’ll continue to reduce my possessions as promised in my New Years resolution. Those socks – at least thirty or forty pairs – need a little thinning out to start with. And while I’m doing that, who knows what other epiphanies or grand adventures await.