Adventure Etiquette = Life Etiquette

December 23, 2015 § Leave a comment

I love camping with my best friend Arnold. Here he is building a tiny snowman:


We’ve spent approximately 3% of the last 8 years camping together. Caves, mountains, bikes, sharks, horses, kayaks, fish, and fires. The adventures have been grand. He’s got a measured temperament in stressful situations. Lost on a snowy peak? No problem. Snorkled into some sharks? It’s cool. Lightening storm on your float trip? Land ho! He’s flexible when it comes to the plan – both in suggesting detours and following off-route – and pushes his adventuring to a level that I’m comfortable with. Plus the dude is strong and lift some heavy shit. Pretty helpful to have around.

His adventure attitude is great. His camp etiquette is even better. Tent and personal belongings in the tent first. Wood collection second. Fire and food preparation simultaneously third. Once dinner is going, then personal time. Dishes are split. In other words, shared camp tasks first. Personal tasks second, unless you’ve really gotta pee. The guy is totally selfless and minimalist. He once took just two towels for sleeping for a two week bike trip. I’m sure he would have given me one if I had asked for it.


Going camping / adventuring with someone is a really good way to get at their character. Are they calm under pressure? Are they risk averse? Do they help out with shared tasks or do they do their own business first while you set stuff up? Are they totally oblivious to the work you’re putting in to keep up camp? Do they ask if you want help or do they just jump in to help if you’re doing something?

It’s all pretty basic stuff that comes to light when you’re living a pretty basic existence.


So I dragged my girlfriend camping in November without any of this in mind. I just wanted to go camping after a long summer campaign with no respite. It seemed like a good thing to do to clear my mind, and great with my favorite person and partner.

It happened to be in Florida. On a swampy trail that looked like this…


Except that we got a way late start and it was dark already climbing through that muck. And did I mention that we were covered in mosquitoes and that the campsite was 2 miles out and primitive? Oh, and also we passed this sign –

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She’d had a tough week (the Supreme Court made a shitty decision on one of our campaigns) and wasn’t too stoked on the overnighter, but knew that I’d had my heart set on it.

We set out into the darkness.

And it was totally awesome. We got off trail in the swamp and she put her foot down on not splitting up in a totally stern but respectable way. She offered to switch packs and encouraged me chill when I wanted to muscle my way there with all the firewood attached to me. She prepped the food as I started the fire in simpatico. We got to zen out in the wilderness together and it was just lovely.

Apparently, (I just Googled this to confirm), they say you have to camping with your partner before you really know them. This probably isn’t true – all of these things arise in one way or another in normal life – but it is a very concentrated situation where all of the things come to light in a short period of time.

So there you are. Go forth and camp with your betrothed, folks.



December 23, 2015 § 1 Comment

Indoor bouldering is a body puzzle in a bubble. A game of balance and strength, of virtually endless attempts and cushy falls. If you get freaked out, you just climb down on some juggy holds or tumble roll on an endless mattress. It’s a community of helpful athletic hipster nerds cheering you on and giving you beta.

You can pee in a toilet and buy Cliff bars and eat them on a couch. It’s a constant 65 degrees.

When you’re done you do some finger pull ups and jump kicks for good measure.


Outdoor bouldering. Outdoor bouldering is an adventure.

You’re lost on the approach and your map isn’t helping because it’s a picture of a bunch of boulders and trees and everywhere around you is boulders and trees. You’re surrounded by endless boulders to top and you want to cry because you want to climb THEM ALL but you know that that’s not possible and that just makes you so sad. You got fixated on one boulder for an hour making up problems. You’ve been working on one problem all day. You’re trying to top all the 15 footers. Your buddy got diarrhea from the tacos yesterday and you’re stuck at camp.

The rock is gritty but it takes. It’s chossy and wet. It’s smooth as a baby’s butt and it grips like a vice. It stabby and all the crimps suck but the slopers are awesome. It’s heinous and you suspect someone has covered it in butter. It’s covered in glorious, beautiful jugs that feel like total cheating. It’s covered in dried mushrooms because it rained last week. It’s got cactus growing out of half the holds.

You can’t make the next hold because you’re off route. You can’t make it because you’ve been there for three days and your arms don’t work anymore. You can’t make it because you’re bleeding. You can’t feel your fingers because it’s 50 degrees. You can’t make it because you only slept for four hours. Because you drank too much around the camp fire last night. You can’t make it because you’re fucking terrified. You go for it anyways because you’re too high up to fall now and the only way to go is up.

You stick it and float through the crux and you feel heroic. You stick it and slowly calculate the rest of the way, full of fear, trying to get it over with. You stick it and it’s totally the wrong beta and you feel around to see what you missed.

You’re a few small people in a large expanse. You go home and agree that it was all pretty epic.

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“Feels like 91”

June 15, 2015 § 2 Comments

Today was the hottest I’ve ever been.

43 miles round trip in what says “feels like 91,” bike -> hike -> boulder -> hike -> bike to Sourland Mountain. Sweaty sweaty bouldering, but there’s some really fun stuff up there. Definitely worth a day bouldering trip assuming I can figure out how to bike with a crash pad …

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 Spent about 10 minutes here Googling the symptoms of my three bug bites –
sharp pain transitioning into itchiness and a big bump, faded away in 5 minutes. Results inconclusive.

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Boulder field heaven. You know, if heaven felt like hell.

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Outdoor playground.

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Out of water and Gatorade, dripping sweat, 5 miles to go.

Eastern Sierras – Alabama Hills & Bristlecone Pines

January 4, 2015 § Leave a comment

Now that my sister has gone off to Berkeley to set the curves in her math classes, my Dad has taken up outdoorsmanship full time… and IT. IS. AWESOME! Combine Asian thriftiness with the internet and a love for the outdoors and BOOM,  I arrived home to find technical rain jackets, soft shells, a 15 degree rated sleeping bad and a top notch Thermarest. There’s really no better way to celebrate the holidays than some -12 degree father-daughter camping.

Definitely Type II fun.

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Bristlecone pines don’t biodegrade – the oldest logs are over 9,000 years old. Wicked awesome.
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Right after this photo, my iPhone warned me that it was too damn hot and the phone was shutting off until it cooled down.

A labor of love.

October 26, 2014 § Leave a comment

Yesterday I geared up for a grocery run and within a minute out the door, found my bike lock bungee snugly wrapped in my gears. My only recourse was to cut the thing out. RIP bungee.bungee chain

Cycle commuting can be, depending on the day, a labor of love, a labor of convenience, a labor to minimize cost, a labor of necessity, and/or a labor of annoyance.

Whichever one it is, it’s a labor.

You rarely can just grab your keys and go wearing whatever your wearing. You can’t look at a maintenance problem and shrug and put it off until the weekend. You don’t forget your reusable bags because you can’t get your groceries home without them. To minimize labor, cycle commuters can be found with tried and true outfits for varied weather. Specific bike lock arrangements for maximum efficiency. Hitches and trailers, panniers and messenger bags. Travel tools on hand.

Like Camus’ take on Sisyphus, it the labor that makes it have any worth at all.

In shape for what?

October 1, 2014 § Leave a comment

For the first time in almost seven years I’m not in charge of a make or break project at work, and I’ve been in a weird existential place for the last two months as a result (if the 4 half started blog posts in that time period  are any indicator…)

Most of the time in my adult life, I have been thinking, “how do I do the minimal basic human things to survive so I can do the most to change the world in my job” – this meant reading 5-ingredient meal Pintersts, going for runs at midnight after work, and scheduling conference calls to catch up with four friends at once on Sundays for efficiency sake. It meant the job was life, and along the way I figured out what I needed to stay sane while doing it. A long bike ride once a month. A big outdoor vacation every four months or so. Dance parties whenever possible.

This was mostly great, and often exhausting. My life felt absolutely purposeful, my time well allocated and proportioned for maximum productivity. There’s a certain type of insane drive one gets when $1.7 million is on the line (maybe pennies for a big bank, but real money for a non-profit), and it feels really good to be in.

So rewind to August – I’ve got all this “free time” stuff, like, 60-70 hour work weeks, and I’m more than a little confused and lost. I feel a lot like this Atlantic article about happiness versus fulfillment .. .except instead of feeling happy, I felt like I was cheating. All of my basic needs were already met working ridiculous hours, all the free time seemed excessive. Of course there was more work to do – lists that needed revamping, how-to documents, and sample press releases to make – but all of it without the same urgency as before. I tried to find internal motivation to do it all anyways.


I wondered at who a person was without a greater purpose, what is the value of a person who does not fight for their values?


Purpose for purposes’ sake?

I bike by a Tae Kwon Do studio in my daily commute, Master Choi’s – the same name as the studio I went to when I was 12 in Maryland – and one day, I thought what the hell, let’s see what’s going on here. 5 hours later, I was running kicking drills with a 72 year old Grand Master, 1961 S. Koren Heavyweight Champion and 1968 European Heavyweight Champion, all the old forms coming back, red faced, k’iaping like a mad-woman.

I pause for a breather after half an hour.

“You’ve still got it! Perfect form! Just out of shape, we’ll get you in shape!”

Well, that’s it, I thought, a 72 year old just called me out of shape. Now I have to give him money so he can make me not a weenie. We talked prices and I told him I’d think about it. For a day or so, it felt good, this was something concrete to work towards.

And then at some point I thought, “Wait, but why?” What am I getting in shape for? What happens then? It’s not like a good political campaign – we fought for five years in California to ban the plastic bag, and yesterday Gov. Brown finally signed the bill. That’s 12 billion real pieces of pollution that will no longer be produced every year. You can feel proud of that, good about that. What is getting into personal shape compared to that? It felt like selfishness

I mulled some more.

“Fill your cup”

Last week, I was at wedding with a bunch of old work friends and I was talking this over with one of them. We both have a lot of friends who do easier things and find meaning and purpose in many things – family, their garden, a sport, children, etc. – and I was heartened that she has also has had this dilemma. Are you truly living a moral life, if you are not giving it your all to push forward the morals that you hold dear? If you value justice and lessening the suffering of others, how seriously do you take your values if you are not fighting for them?

If you have something that you think is worth fighting for, who are you to not give it your all?

Most people just don’t have that thing.

She introduced me to the concept of “filling your cup” – do what you need to do to be functional so that you have enough to share with others. It put a nice fine point on the question of where the work life balance belongs for me.

So last week I told my boss to put more on my plate and today I’m happy to report that I’ll likely be overseeing another person in the mid-west. I’m totally stoked.

I’m also coming to terms with living like a normal person – I think I can morally justify my existence if I spend the rest of my time doing things I can look back on and be proud of like reading good books, building good friendships, and running around and climbing things. So I’m bouldering every weekend and running longer distances, making one friend phone call at a time, and all the while still thinking about the pithy things.The jury is still out on this one 🙂

Bouldering Hoosier Heights

kids should be experts outside

March 21, 2014 § 3 Comments

When I was a kid, I remember being let outside like a wild animal.

My exasperated parents were tired of getting complaints about the noise from the downstairs neighbors, and tired of reprimanding me to no avail. I remember one hot summer day the neighbor stomped up the stairs after I’d completed a bought of sprinting and screaming (as you do at 5 or 6) and saying, “My fan. Is SHAKING. Whatever it is you’re doing,” he said with a sidelong glance at me, “I can not only hear it, but I can SEE it.”

There wasn’t much else they could do.

kidsassmaster, one might say

I was put on a very strict schedule of run-and-swim-around-until-you’re-too-tired-to-make-a-fuss. Come home, go to the pool. Do my homework. Go to the pool again. Let loose around the neighborhood until it was too dark to see. Knock on the door and go to the side of the apartment building where the hose was to to wait for mom. Get hosed off, towel dry. Do Chinese school homework. Go to bed. Weekends were an endless adventure outside – with lunch packed and a bike, I was off until sunset.

I remember pretending to be rescuers in a rainstorm – it was pouring cats and dogs and my friend Alex and I were biking around into giant puddles, through pretend rivers, crashing and splashing. I remember dumpster diving and making forts with random pieces of furniture and wood, reading worn paperbacks in my new living room. Everything was a fort. The palm frond teepee. The bushes with a hidden alcove. The tree house that we started a fire in. There were neighborhood kid rivalries and turf wars, punches thrown and harsh words exchanged. We caught lizards, grasshoppers, crickets, rollie pollies, caterpillars, lightening bugs, and yes, even fire ants once (I was only covered in Benadryl for a week or so). I was always covered in scabs and didn’t really mind except that they were itchy.

When we moved from Florida to Indiana at 8, I got more comfortable, wandered further – the cops knew me because I’d be miles away from home throwing water balloons off a parking structure or picking up change in the parking lot of the small local airport to buy candy from the vending machine. They’d escort me home until the next time. The entire university and town were my playground. I remember getting lost in the woods with some friends, totally terrified, thinking a big stump was the silhouette of a bear and kicking myself for not remembering what kind of bears you should run from and what kind you should play dead at instead. We had an intense fight about whether we should stay put, split up, or stay together and go the same direction. There were always gaggles of kids at the graduate student apartments – like in Florida, the apartments were built around a continuous greenway, with parking on the outside, ringing the play area. We’d take the little kids crab-apple tree climbing and make sure they got home at a reasonable hour.

When we moved to Maryland, I remember being responsible for my sister (ages 11 and 2). We had a giant semi-wooded field behind the apartment. One of the neighbors had two Scottish terriers and there was a playground where we’d play chicken on the monkey bars. I made sure my sister didn’t eat anything that wasn’t grass (it mostly worked) and played tag or cowboys and indians. I figured out how to weave baskets and make bows out of willow trees. We’d run around and shoot at the Canadian geese.

And it was like that, on and on, outside and wandering, managing and creating my own fun and my own reality. Sure, we’d play video games here and there,  build glorious Lego contraptions, and read endlessly in between, but mostly my parents had shit to do, and as long as I did my homework and workbooks, I was free to do what I wanted. In retrospect, it was freedom. It was endless possibility. At the time, it was everything life generally is – fun, terrifying, a remedy to boredom, curiosity, self-consciousness with some kids, bravado with others, wanderlust, etc etc.

I hadn’t thought about it in this light until I read this article in the Atlantic ….

“Is this a junkyard?” asks my 5-year-old son, Gideon, who has come with me to visit. “Not exactly,” I tell him, although it’s inspired by one. The Land is a playground that takes up nearly an acre at the far end of a quiet housing development in North Wales. It’s only two years old but has no marks of newness and could just as well have been here for decades. The ground is muddy in spots and, at one end, slopes down steeply to a creek where a big, faded plastic boat that most people would have thrown away is wedged into the bank. The center of the playground is dominated by a high pile of tires that is growing ever smaller as a redheaded girl and her friend roll them down the hill and into the creek. “Why are you rolling tires into the water?” my son asks. “Because we are,” the girl replies.

It’s still morning, but someone has already started a fire in the tin drum in the corner, perhaps because it’s late fall and wet-cold, or more likely because the kids here love to start fires. Three boys lounge in the only unbroken chairs around it; they are the oldest ones here, so no one complains. One of them turns on the radio—Shaggy is playing (Honey came in and she caught me red-handed, creeping with the girl next door)—as the others feel in their pockets to make sure the candy bars and soda cans are still there. Nearby, a couple of boys are doing mad flips on a stack of filthy mattresses, which makes a fine trampoline. At the other end of the playground, a dozen or so of the younger kids dart in and out of large structures made up of wooden pallets stacked on top of one another. Occasionally a group knocks down a few pallets—just for the fun of it, or to build some new kind of slide or fort or unnamed structure. Come tomorrow and the Land might have a whole new topography. – The Overprotected Kid, Hanna Rosin

As I was writing this post, I thought, “man I wish I had pictures of this stuff from when I was growing up,” but it is a testament to the times that there aren’t any. Our parents weren’t around for it. They were working, getting advanced degrees, hosing us off, feeding us, and making us do our homework. Playing Chinese Checkers or having a tickle war with us if we wanted it, but mostly letting us be. But even they have fallen victim to the culture of paranoia in their suburban single family home. When I was home for the holidays this year, I walked the mile to the coffee shop from our house and my mom freaked out when I wasn’t home before dark. It’s a different world. By the time I moved to San Diego, I had no idea who the neighborhood kids were, the landscape was totally built up & manicured with no room for imagination (even more so now), and we’d have to bike for miles to find a place to call our own.

I was having a conversation the other day about how little I remember of being a kid, but basically everything I do remember is of playing and building and wandering outside – I couldn’t tell you how my classrooms were set-up or what lessons we learned or even what my school buildings looked like. At the time I thought this was kind of sad, to have no recollection of such a large segment of being alive, but now I am thinking that perhaps it is okay to forget the mundane. Perhaps it is a reminder to, as much as you can, live life in a way that will be challenging and memorable (and to give the same chance to your kids).

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