#34 – Cycle Across a Desert

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Everyone in the towns leading into Death Valley told us we were crazy, and it only made the challenge more exciting. The heat was deleriously exhaustive and if I’m honest, I was was never sure we would succeed.

The relentless doubt…the inner battle during the mountain climbs and the long stretches of hot black pavement…was a serious mental challenge.

I got to know my mind better. I often found myself to be an observer, floating over my bike, watching the argument between the strong and weak parts of me and their arguments with the bike and the road.

You take something from every challenge you face and when you focus on one challenge for long enough a period of time, having to face it repeatedly, day after day, you will take exponentially more from it. Distractons strip away and you are left only to focus on the raw polarity of the problem at hand.

And from the cycle of those thoughts, around and around and around, burns a new pattern in your neurology, which you can take with you into a new and better life after the ride.

#33 – Build a Kids Library in Cambodia

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It took me a couple of years of travelling in countries with massive poverty and dealing with the infinite moral conondrum faced when staring beggars in the eyes before I found a way of helping that I was genuinely comfortable with. At a loss for not knowing where cash handouts would end up and realizing the quick expiry of impact resulting from most types of ongoing support or aid, I found empowerment through education to make the most sense to me.

I was also incrdeibly moved by the tragic stories of genocide and systematic destruction of educated role models I heard while I was in Phnom Phen.

That’s why I choose to fund the construction of a library for kids in Cambodia.

The experience and success was, for obvious reasons, incredibly rewarding. In addition to the undeniable satisfaction from helping people, I also cherish the learning and self development that came from adopting what was then such a lofty goal – raising US$14,000 for something simply because I believed in it.

I learned people you thought would join you and help, wouldn’t. And people who you wouldn’t have expected to care, to care and help a whole lot.

I learned inspiration is the most powerful way to affect change. Some teachers were inspired to inspire thier students to inspire their friends and family to help. The change there was a lot bigger than just the donations. It was the space between the dollars that I was also very excited about. The learning, curiosity and emotions experienced by those who took the time to listen and consider…and maybe even inspire others.

Learning first hand how to move people to move others, even without the unmatched rewarding feeling, easily makes raising funds to build a kids library in Cambodia one of the top 100 things I’ve done.

Top 100 Things I’ve Done – #32

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Work for an Adventure Camp

During my final semester of college, I had no idea what I wanted to do next. I was burned out from studying Quantum Mechanics all day, so I started searching for outdoor summer jobs. I made a few applications online and ended up getting offers for a couple different positions.

The first was as a white water rafting guide on the Kennebec River. I had been a guest with the rafting company the year before and .interested in a job there since, so I was pretty sure I would take the offer. Before I told them I’d spend my spring break at guide training, I got an email from Sara Johnson at Longacre Expeditions saying she’d like to do a phone interview with me.

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Top 100 Things I’ve Done – #31

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Walk on a lava field.

From what I’d read, Volcanoes National Park in Hawaii was sure to be an impressive place. It was. The lava field my girlfriend Melissa and I walked on was only a few weeks old. The volcano had spued tons of hot magma over the access road to the old lava field and into the ocean. Hawaii is obviously still growing rapidly. There was actually hot magma floating beneath the black rock as we walked on it for hours. The heat was intense. Between the beat of the summer sun from above and the magma below, it had to be hottest heat I’ve ever experienced. Except for spotted evidence of human life, like protruding street signs, it felt like we were walking on another planet. Eventually we found a place where the magma, still red hot, was actually bubbling out of the ground. It moved slow and deliberately. As the magma grew from the ground, we watched it turn from a hot yellow to orange to red and finally to black lava. We couldn’t get much closer than twenty feet without the heat threatening to blister our faces, so we stayed and watched the island of Hawaii grow before our eyes.

Most geological processes take thousands, millions, billions of years, but standing on that lava field we got to witness the earth’s surface change in a matter of minutes. It was also amazing to see how the volcano had very simply reclaimed the land people had previously driven cars on. We do what we can to contend with nature, but the earth is definitely in charge.

Top 100 Things I’ve Done – #30

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Swim with sting rays.

The boat we were on dumped about thirty snorkeled and finned tourists into crystal clear water off the coast of the Grand Cayman islands. The water was shallow enough to stand. Everyone quickly found their own space among the hundreds of giant sting rays swarming around us like birds gliding in slow motion. They were so tame and not at all intimidated by everyone’s flopping splashing and yelling. Some of the bigger ones had to be at least fifty pounds. When I put out my arms they would swim right into them. I picked one up just above the surface of the water and stared into their eyes. We inspected each other briefly before he shifted his weight and swam off with a slow grace. The tour operators assured us the sting rays would actually not sting or bite. At worst they may attempt to suck on our skin looking for food. Well I found out they suck pretty hard, and it may as well have been a bite. One of those guys sucked the blood right through my skin! The water streaked red from my elbow and I was left with a very impressive sting ray hicky.

Holding and getting a hickies from sting rays is probably the most intimate experience I’ve ever had with wild creatures. Things like this help keep me in touch with the natural world. And having been on a massive floating resort all week, it was a grounding relief.

Top 100 Things I’ve Done – #29

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Take a terrific trip at a terrible time.

It was only days before spring break and our relationship was broken. The rollercoaster had finally derailed and our plans to travel together were trashed. The weight was crushing me, so I hopped a standby flight to the west coast, hoping I could escape my misery alone in Hawaii. With bitter disappointment, I found all the flights to Honolulu were overbooked. I was stuck at a hostel in San Francisco. Her voice mails were too much. I phoned home. Somehow she convinced me we meet in Orlando.

The next morning she started her twenty four hour bus ride from Rhode Island and I boarded a flight to Miami. It was the closest I could get. That night she slept on the southbound Greyhound and I found a bench in the parking lot of Miami International. With my arms and legs wrapped through my luggage, I enjoyed the warm intermittent sleep as best I could.

My spontaneity had given me a weightlessness feeling; a sort of a mix between butterflies and freedom. However, Dad saw this as a tragic display of irresponsibility and our communication was therefore severed until my return to reality.

The next morning I took the first flight to Orlando and collected my luggage. My bank account was empty, but my new Visa had a full appetite. I smiled at the car rental agent as he fed my credit card a shiny white convertible. It was a Chrysler Sebring type; the cheapest car made without a roof.

The first stop was Wall-Mart. $22 for their cheapest tent would serve as sufficient and cheap housing. Second, I made my way through a McDonalds drive-thru roofless and bought myself an Egg McMuffin and one of those very neat and clean potato crunch things. A quick call to the half of home that would listen and then I made my way to the bus station. Her Greyhound rolled up with impressive punctuality. Ragged and tired, northern folk filed off the bus into the hot December sun.

Her smile was crooked, as if to express excitement while admitting sorrow. My weightlessness was amplified. Sitting in a car with no roof may have played a roll.

Then we drove.

I don?t remember all the places we went and I don?t remember the order. But I do remember most of the things we did and I remember how I felt; vividly.

We were going places we had never been. We slept under the stars. We showered at truck stops. We saw street acts in Key West. We hung out in South Beach. We kayaked into the sunset.

Our emotions were going places they had never been. We had fallen in love. It was falling apart. We were jealous. We were passionate. We were excited. We were depressed. We were sure. We were unsure.

The weightlessness, the places we went, the things we did, the emotions we felt, made the entire trip surreal. It was only Florida and our story was pretty normal, but it didn?t feel so. It was a terrible time for a trip, but maybe that?s what made it so terrific.

Top 100 Things I’ve Done – #28

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Buy a BMW.

If three years ago someone had told me one day I?d buy a BMW, I would have told them they were going to burn in hell for lying to me. I?d never waste my money on something so unnecessary, never mind pretentious.

Now, if I don?t get to drive my yuppie car for a day, I miss it like family.

I was never into cars. I mean, I drove them, but I was never a car-guy. A few years ago, I hardly knew a Ford from a Honda, never mind a Lexus from a BMW. I?m still not a car guy I suppose. I don?t know names and models of all sorts of cars. But I will say that now I’m a my-car-guy.

About a year into real estate, my 1996 Ford Explorer had just under ? million miles on it and I could finally afford a replacement. I was with my father, a trusty and experienced new car shopping advisor, and we were on our way to test drive the new Jettas. On the way there, my dad suggested we that just for fun, we take a BMW for a spin. That was my first time getting into a luxury or performance car, well consciously anyway.

Unless you’re like me in that you drive with two hands grasped firmly on the wheel, you probably wouldn’t relate to the exhilaration I felt test driving a BMW. Either my convictions against owning such a heap of bling were weaker than I thought, or this thing was way more fun than I could have imagined, because after two hours at the dealership, never making it to test drive anything else and daydreaming for a week, I went back and bought what was to be an addiction to my senses and a symbol of my difficulty with images for the year to come.

I?ve written many times about images. The BMW became my suit and tie in real estate. It didn?t matter as much when I showed up for appointments wearing shorts and sneakers, because I was driving a yuppie car. Oh, he?s not dressed up, but he?s driving an expensive car?he must be successful. Yes, people do think that way. Trust me. I pay very close attention to people?s reactions to the images I portray.

I truly am addicted to the stupid thing. I love driving it. Love it. It?s like cocaine for me. And just like cocaine, although it?s an awesome ride, it has some undesirable side effects.

There are more times I feel sick to my stomach because someone assumes, that since I drive a BMW, I am a pompous asshole, then there are times I impress and succeed in gaining a prospective client because I drive an expensive car.

Just this week, I was seated out on the sidewalk at everyone?s favorite punk rock restaurant; Julian?s. While eating and talking about real estate with my friend Mark, I was watching a cute couple with a very fine tuned punk-image pretend to not be listening to us. It was pretty obvious they found humor in such businessy talk at this place. Coincidently, both our tables got up to leave at the same time. We were crossing the street together and when I went to get in my car, I glanced over and caught them pointing at me as they burst into laughter.

That bothered me. I thought “Why do I drive such a car, if it causes people I socialize with to make negative assumptions about me?” And then…it bothered me that it bothered me. These two were focused on portraying their punk-image, because they wanted people to be sure to understand that they were not who they were assuming me to be. In fact, they were more focused on their image, than I was on mine! I may have spent more money, but with their delicately spiked hair and accurately picked outfits, they spent much more time than I. And as far as I know, there’s a lot more money than time in this world.

I have realized that everyone stereotypes and everyone portrays some type of image for personal gain, whether it be financial, social or something else.

Most importantly, owning a BMW is a great reminder that I can?t please everyone. I can only please myself. So that?s what I?m doing and I love it.

Let me know if you want to go for a ride. I?ll pick you up.

Top 100 Things I’ve Done – #27

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Fly in a helicopter.

I think it safe to say most people dream of flying. Any means of getting me into the air and giving me a simplistic view of our complex world ranks especially high on my list. I love to fly and recently I had my first chance to do so in a helicopter.

Out of all the modes of flight available today, a helicopter was and still is the one I find least attractive. The reason being a helicopter has a 100% dependency on moving parts to stay in flight. Should the engine fail, maintaining flight is no longer and option.

However, weighing the statistics was enough to get me to climb into this unnatural flying contraption with my mother and sister.

The flight was surprisingly smooth. I had expected lots of bouncing and moving around, but we just floated along as if we were being caused to hover by some constant force below as opposed to the giant noisy fan above. We moved much slower than one would in a plane and the windows were much larger, giving us an almost 360 degree, very satisfying view of the Alaskan coast, towns, mountains, and glaciers below.

It’s an experience I’m glad I’ve had, and if I had to live my life over again, I’d make sure I did it. But I can’t say I’m in giant rush to get back in one of those things. I’m more a fan of things with wings.

Top 100 Things I’ve Done – #26

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Glissade a volcano.

Glis?sade (gl-s?d’) n. A controlled slide, in either a standing or sitting position, used in descending a steep icy or snowy incline.

It was the summer of 2002 and we had hiked all day to reach the summit of Mt St Helens; a volcano that had erupted a mere twenty years ago. She was supposedly dormant, although this summer 2005 she?s been rumbling again and is closed to hiking. The hike was difficult. Lots of hand over foot even before the tree line, then loose granular for hours and more hand over foot as we scaled boulders to the top. The view from the summit was beautiful. At my toes was a sheer drop into the mouth of a volcano. It was as if the earth had opened up and I was looking straight into hell. In the distance mountains spotted the state of Washington and behind me descended miles of steep, hard packed snow.

There was no way one could climb to the peak over this snow without special gear. Since we had no such gear, we had scaled the natural stream of boulders that led like a man made path to the summit. The guides talked about the possibility of glissading down while others whined that this was not a definite plan. They said some things about safety being a concern, but I was paying more attention to the climb, for it was my first time on a mountain.

The ascent had taken us a long time and honestly, after reaching the summit, I wasn?t looking forward to a five hour hike back to camp. After we finished eating and packed our stuff, the guides gave the word that we would indeed be glissading down the mountain. Ok, now I was interested. Any alternative to more hours of hiking was something I?d like to try.

When they told me what I was to do, I couldn?t believe it. How can this be safe? Are they serious? As my friends got into position and started down the mountain, I couldn?t believe my eyes. We were actually to sit on our butts, lift our feet in the air, lean back and give ourselves a push into uncontrolled velocity. Just like sledding, but with no sled! And this hill wasn?t like the one down the street. Mt St Helens is over 8000? above sea level and miles long. I was given a rickety climbing stick as my break. ?Do NOT let this thing go?, said the guide before disappearing in a whoosh of air and ice.

There were plenty of people ahead of me already flying along, so I stopped thinking, sat myself down and just pushed myself off. I picked up speed quickly and soon it didn?t matter what position I was in, butt, back, stomach?I?d just keep sliding along. Once in awhile a foot would catch and spray ice in my face, spinning me around. I got pretty good at using my climbing stick as a break and rudder. The more confidence I got, the faster I went. Eventually we were all knocking into each other as we raced down the face of Mt St Helens.

The feeling was so great. We?d spent hours and hours hiking up, and now we were descending the same distance in only minutes. The scene was not something a mother would like to see. Human bodies sliding helplessly down the side of a volcano at the mercy of her incline. Luckily the guides new what they were doing, because eventually the steepness faded, and like rolling marbles finding a dip in the floor, we all collected into a basin of snow at the tree line. I wanted to do it again, but the only way was to hike back up and unfortunately there was not enough daylight or strength in my legs to make it back to the top.

I wouldn?t recommend glissading without a guide who seriously knows the terrain. There were points I was going so fast that any impact with a stationary object would have been pretty tragic. This was a pure field of snow with nothing to hit, and I could see that, but I still wouldn?t have done it without a professional ahead of me. I guess most sensible people wouldn?t just sit on their ass and slide down the side of the volcano anyway. Then again, our idea of sensible isn?t always right, nor is it always the most fun.

Top 100 Things I’ve Done – #25

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Get pierced.

I was jogging my normal path down Ocean Road in Narragansett, breathing in the warm salty air that somehow lubricates my mind, making it easier to sort things out. Graduation had been a few weeks prior and I was reflecting on how much I had changed during college. I started out wearing enormous worn jeans and oversized band t-shirts. I had bleached hair and a face full of metal then. By graduation I dressed a bit more “normal”, as my dad would often call it. The clothes fit, my hair was back to brown and some of the metal had come out.

Still jogging, I thought about why I had decided to pierce my tongue, eyebrow , ears four times and both nipples. The simple reason I suppose, was I liked the look. Just as one might like like a green hat or a pair of red shoes. The people I hung around with had piercings, so that’s what I found attractive. However there was also an attraction to the attention metal in my face caused. Of course it was more often bad then good, but I think I still liked it. Even today, I find it interesting and entertaining to observe people’s reactions to a disturbance in normalcy.

As I ran forward and watched the ocean, I touched the metal and plastic pieces in my body. They had been attached for so long, that sometimes I needed reminding they weren’t a part of me. By that time I was down to a ring in each nipple and holes in my ears, which were wide enough to easily pass my pen through during a boring lecture.

I thought about how my appearance had moved in a more conservative direction. My interest in playing with prejudice minds was becoming less important than being prejudged. And now it was time to head out into the real world and be prejudged more than I?d ever been prejudged before. I knew if I took my piercings out and put them in a drawer, with a swing of mood I?d probably put them back in. I also knew that during a run was a time when I had the clearest thoughts. So still running, one by one, slowly and over-theatrically, I took out each piercing and tossed it to the side of the road.

From having piercings and from taking them out on my own accord, I learned a lot about playing along with societies stereotypes for personal gain. I don?t like the way superficial perceptions and traditionalism play a role in the way people are judged, but it?s a fact of this world. I learned to put everything on a scale. I never liked dressing up and I still don?t, but if what I may gain by wearing the costume is more important to me than the discomfort or distaste it may bring, I do it.

There are still times I do things, wear things, say things that aren?t commonly accepted. And who knows, if there comes a time I?m not concerned with being prejudged, I may end up getting pierced again. I still find the style attractive and interesting. Until then I?ll play the dress up game just like everyone else.

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