March 7, 2019
Reflections on a spontaneous year
This year has been a whirlwind. I haven’t been as active writing and communicating as I’d like to be. Here’s a “quick” update about where I’ve been and what I’ve learned. I wanted to write this in January, but didn’t find time. I also realize April - March isn’t a year, but I don’t really care.
- Left my job and flew to Lima on April 14th
- Spent a few weeks exploring the city and “strategizing” my next move (you’ll notice this is a theme)
One day in Lima, I looked out the window at a distant mountain and decided I wanted to climb it. I put on my shoes, packed a backpack of supplies, and started walking. I walked for 3 miles through the city to reach the base and then started climbing. Along the way I passed a fish market, a lighthouse, and a giant statue of Jesus. I trudged up the mountain though soft dirt that powdered my shoes. I reached the top near sunset and laid on the rocky ground watching the sun set over the foggy pacific. I ran down the mountain and most of the way home out of happiness and necessity to avoid getting lost in the dark.
Find a place in the distance, start in that direction, and see where you end up. A simple tactic to add depth to your life
- Spent 10 days in Huaraz, Peru acclimatizing for the Huayhuash Circuit
- Filled our days with day hikes and caldo de gallina
- Hiked the Huayhuash Circuit
- Had an epiphany about curiosity while bumming around a dusty surf town
Feeling vs. knowing
I felt for the first time in my life the scale and connectedness of earth while camping on the Eastern slope of the Andes at the source of the Marañon River. I watched the warm heavy air from the Amazon collide with mountains, condense into clouds, fall as hail on the peaks, cascade into a waterfall, feed a lake, and drain into a river where it eventually flows back to the Amazon Basic . I lived the diagrams I studied in environment science courses.
- Returned to the states in time to see my sister Ellie get married
- Spent a few days with Renee before she left for Europe
- Discovered my storage unit was broken into and most of my important possessions were taken
- Solo road tripped through Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, and Arizona for 3+ weeks and lived out of my car
I coined the term “accidental minimalism” to describe my sudden lack of belongings. In spite of the loss, I learned to see my privilege in absolute terms, rather than relative (ie. I may have less now, but I still have plenty).
I’m an absolute machine and borderline dangerous when I’m alone. I drove thousands of miles, backpacked 100+ miles, attempted a few sketchy summits, and read 5 books. I also spent more than one lonely night eating instant mac n cheese in the darkness of my tent.
On the way out of Denver I stopped at a bookstore to pick up some material for the road. I grabbed Where the Water Goes: Life and Death Along the Colorado River and The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt's New World. Both framed my adventure quite nicely and enriched my view of the world, further strengthening my belief that curiosity can shape travel if we’re open to it.
- Was a groomsman at my good friend, David’s wedding
- Drove cross country to catch the end of a family reunion
- Spent the last half of the month with my parents in Wisconsin
Bucolic: An ugly word for a beautiful thing
One night we went for pizza outside of Eau Claire at a farm which converted a barn into a small restaurant/concert venue. We parked in a field and ate at a picnic table. It was low budget, low investment, but still a reat experience. It sparked my imagination and made me think about opportunities to blend urban/rural lifestyles in a way that benefits everyone. I’ve been sitting on that thought ever since and feel it developing into something.
- Flew to Lisbon and met up with Renee, who’d been traveling for a month and a half on her own
- Rented a campervan and road tripped for 10 days while learning to drive stick
You are what you imagine
We visited the Future of Lisbon exhibition, which asked citizens of Lisbon to answer the question: What will Lisbon look like in the future? The exhibit was full of drawings, essays, and recorded interviews. One theme emerged: people over 40 described a gloomy future (overpopulation, pollution, immigrants, too many tourists). People under 40 described an optimistic future (multiculturalism, clean technology, integration of nature). I don’t know to interpret that.
- Worked for several weeks on vineyards/farms in Northern Portugal
- Flew to Morocco to avoid 90 day Schengen visa penalty for Renee
- Climbed North Africa’s highest peak, Mt. Toubkal
- Hiked the Rif Mountains during the annual marijuana harvest
Synergy and the virtue of laziness
It is clear to me that there is a difference between working with nature and working against nature. I think I’ve always been intuitively frustrated by activities and chores we create for ourselves under the guise of maintenance or improvement; like raking leaves and packing them in plastic bags, rather than leaving them to compost and replenish the soil. I left my farming experience questioning what it means to “live off the land” and imagining better (lazier) ways to do it.
When one door closes another opens
We were supposed to travel to Bosnia to take part in an Entrepreneur in Residence program, but after months of back and forth the plan fell through. Renee has always wanted to visit Cape Town and that same day flights hit a 6 month low. We bought one way tickets and boarded a plane less than a week later.
- Invited to join an Unsettled retreat in Cape Town
- Had coffees/skype calls with a ton of people
- Built a new website for Unsettled
- Road-tripped the west coast and through the Cederberg mountains of South Africa
Faith in people
I was pressured to put my debit card in a doctored ticketing machine by a group of 3 men in fake security outfits and a 4th accomplice in street clothes in the middle of a public bus station. In less than 10 minutes they stole my card info and drained my checking account. A week later I got in a standoff with a guy who followed me for 6 blocks and threatened to steal from me, before a cop stepped in. My feeling of vulnerability and frustration culminated when I nearly ignored an old women in the street who approached me to ask for directions to the train station. I felt disgusted with myself and vowed to not let bad people color my view of the majority.
I spent the first few weeks in Cape Town finding interesting businesses and people I could learn from. I was lucky enough to Skype with Claire Janisch, who is a consultant, scientist, and naturalist guide. She opened my eyes to biomimicry, which is a field of nature-based inquiry and design. Biomimicry prompts us to look to nature for answers to our questions. It fits perfectly within my philosophy of curiosity and provides a valuable lens for looking at the world.
- Watched Renee take on her fear of heights and bungee jump off a bridge
- Drove across the majority of South Africa
- Revisited many of the places I spent time during study abroad
We stopped in Bloemfontein during our cross country road trip and decided to visit the Anglo Boer museum. South African history is typically represented as apartheid and post apartheid, black vs white. During the second Boer war, from 1900-1902, British troops detained thousands of Boer women and children, along with many black people, in concentration camps. It’s estimated that 26,000 women and children died in camps. The British ultimately “won”, largely due to their aggressive scorched earth policy. Miraculously, less than 10 years later, the two groups were united as one South African republic and had already resurrected a memorial to commemorate the dead. On the surface it feels like a story of forgiveness and progress, until you realize that union was forged not by benevolence, but instead by a common fear, the country’s black majority. It’s remarkable how shallow the collective human memory is and disturbing how easily fear can be used as a tool by groups with an agenda.
- Spent a few days in Johannesburg
- Planned a self drive safari through Isimangaliso and Hluhluwe Imfolozi National Parks
- Hiked the Drakensberg mountains
- Stopped over in Istanbul on a long layover
- Spent Christmas with family in Wisconsin
The joy of sharing an experience
We arrived through the back gate of Imfolzi National Park as the sun started to dip low on the horizon. We proved we weren’t poachers and paid the conservation fees. I asked the guard how many people pass through a day. He looked up from his phone, “Maybe 3, maybe none”, he said. He ushered us through the gate and we were off. I grasped the wheel as we drove our 4x4 rental the first few miles into the park. We marveled at the expansive hills and excitedly pointed out herds of springbok. About 15 minutes in, we turned a corner into a dry creek bed and ran head first into a pride of lions lounging in the end-of-day heat. I stopped a comfortable distance away and we watched. With the windows cracked we could hear the sounds of heavy breathing and the wind rustling through the trees. Our focus on the lions was interrupted when I looked over and saw two rhinos nervously approaching from the left. For the next 10 mins, my attention bounced back and forth between lions and rhinos, both within 20 meters of our car. It was completely surreal.
We reluctantly left soon after to make it to the camp before dark. Once at the camp, we settled into our safari tents and cooked dinner on an open fire grill outside. The 4 of us, Raleigh, Marcus, Renee , and I drank wine, talked, and hung out on the deck of our raise tent. We were interrupted twice by a curious hyena sniffing around the grill. It was a perfect moment and a perfect day. I miss creating adventures for others and hope to plan a few group experiences this year.
Istanbul has become a destination for medical tourists seeking cheap hair transplants. We were only in the city for half a day and saw at least 15 men with bloody bandaged heads.
January - Now
- My car died after a bad repair and questionable mechanic advice (accidental minimalism?)
- Discovered my HSA account was hacked and drained by the person who broke into my storage unit (accidental minimalism?)
- Bought a one way flight to Mexico City
- Built 2 more websites
It’s extremely cliche, but one of the most enjoyable parts about Mexico City has been the tacos and the overall street vendor culture. There is one stand (among thousands) that I happened to visit for lunch one day and fell in love with. It’s called Super Tacos (among probably thousands) and is run by a kind old woman and her son. They serve a rotation of 8-10 tacos for 10 pesos a piece. She serves tacos de guisado, which are a slow cooked, stewed variety. I lovingly know her as lady g. I’ve had ~45 tacos so far and my favorite is carne enchilada. Each time Renee and I show up she smiles and heads for the carne enchilada. It’s a small thing, but it makes us feel good. Next time, we’re going to bring her flowers.
My year in questions
It’s been a stimulating and mind-expanding year. I’ve intentionally sought out fringe perspectives that have enhanced my own worldview. I’ve been working to focus on hearing and evaluating ideas without judging the person delivering them. I’ve also learned to let go a little bit and be open to life’s many potential routes.
These are the ideas I think about frequently. Rather than expand on them, I’ve posed them as ambiguous and somewhat provocative questions. In the coming months, I plan to write and act on some of them.
Are we poised for a second “back to the land” movement?
When is it okay to be content?
Are we becoming toxically independent?
What is the value of creating with your hands?
What would happen if we viewed nature as technology?