The micro-adventure

The micro-adventure

A normal Thursday at work. Six to eight half-hour meetings before lunch, a working lunch, and trying to get some work done amidst a handful of other meetings.

But, tonight, I would sleep under the stars.

The Beginning

One of my unmet goals for 2016 was to do a quarterly ‘micro-adventure’ with my friend Tash.

Finally, over a year later, we pulled one off.

The concept is that we don’t explore the world around us nearly enough. We are trapped in routine commutes, that our path through life is larger than a hamster wheel, but it’s still largely a hamster wheel and often difficult to tell one day from the next.

I can become incredibly comfortable with routine, with planning, with habit. Triathletes generally are – ask most members of my tri club what they’ll be doing Saturday morning and there is no question: a long bike ride.

Mastery, which is recently a topic in vogue, comes at a cost – dedication means repetition, it means the exclusion of other pursuits.

Personally my life has represented this in the extreme – more and more I have narrowed my life to fewer pursuits. Unfocused time became the first to go. A broad social life disappeared. Family faded in and out at times based on avalanches of guilt, loneliness, or love. Relationships could never fit into the focus of work and selfish pursuits.

While mindfulness is a concept I have discovered late in life, it doesn’t hold all the answers. The physical world is just as important as the space between your ears, and learning to combine both.

So now that I’ve built up this concept to the point where it sounds like it will save humanity, the most basic micro-adventure can be summed up as ‘an impromptu hike.’

Today when you talk to most people about camping, it’s an ordeal. Select your destination, plan your meals, find your gear, pack it all up, pick your trail, reserve your campsite, apply for leave to make it an exorbitant three-day weekend. All this means people don’t go camping that often, or that camping is the pursuit of the few that do it enough that the overhead is reflex.

I grew up camping, even in my own backyard. Summers in Eagle River, Alaska, meant getting the canvas tent and it’s external frame pack – which took one of us to carry the beast, and heading down to the Beaver pond to camp overnight. Three kids, early teens, running around a pond riddled area next to the train tracks. As the trains came by, we’d don bandanas and wave machetes and knives at the wide eyed tourists as they rolled by, sightseeing cattle looking at the Alaskan wilderness. A decade later, I rediscovered camping with friends in uni and even returned for a six week hiking trip through my home state of Alaska.

So the idea of re-introducing a bit of outdoor life into my ‘trapped in the city’ routine had instant appeal.

The Plan(ish)

While the idea was to be as spontaneous as possible, there was tension between being totally unplanned and having a complete disaster for our first attempt.

With my work and training schedule, there’s no such thing as ‘free time.’ So I had to start with picking a date. Once that was set, we started with the broad strokes plan:

We’ll meet after work, go to the train station, take the next train 90 minutes, then exit the train, then hike for an hour, and then sleep overnight.

Now, I live in Sydney, Australia – a unique place where this is possible. Most US cities have dangerous areas, or you could not reach wilderness within 90 minutes, or even in Queensland that wilderness might be filled with things that will kill you. So this is easier than it would be in other places.

Still, by the time we had boarded the train, we actually had decided to head South, to hike into the Royal National Park, and find a place to camp along the trail.

The Train Ride

Fish and Chips

The ride South went quickly. The guy sitting across from us talked about the great trails, wished us well, leaving 5 empty beer cans in his seat. That’s quite a routine for anyone’s commute.

We grabbed a fish & chips dinner before hiking into the park. There was way too much to eat, and always fearful that my metabolism and hypoglycemia will turn me into an angry idiot, I packed the rest of the chips away in their paper bag in my backpack. (This is exposition)

The Trail

Bush walk

The hike was fantastic. The trail provided only an occasional view of the horizon, but kept your attention on the winding, well maintained but not sterile path through rocks and trees. We were constantly on the lookout for places to sleep – looking for protected flat spots. There are no camping spots in here – what we were doing is technically illegal.

I love the phrase ‘technically illegal’ because it means the same thing as ‘illegal.’

We found a couple of places that would work out along the way, feeling the pressure of the race against the setting sun to try and reach one of the water pools in case we could get in a swim before going to sleep.

The Pools

Time for a swim

Hmm… Can’t see anything. Let’s jump in.

Finally, we emerged. The natural pools were there, in an open space, with flat rocks above. Before the sun set we found two flat spaces to camp. Then a quick change into swimmers, and trying to ease into the largest pool without breaking an ankle or scraping a knee on the slippery rock surfaces. The water was completely black, the bottom invisible. The water was cold, but in an invigorating way, rather than numbing or paralyzing. It required you to move, to breathe.

The notion that you could not see anything below you – how deep it was, whether the Aussie equivalent of the Loch Ness Monster was staring at your toes deliciously, whether there is a fresh water bush jellyfish species that your friends have failed to mention, or even whether your leg will get caught in some vegetation and this will be the tragic story of your life that is told. Isn’t imagination fun?

Time for sleep

Campsite

The sun set, forcing bedtime. We read, drank, had dessert, and departed to our “sites”.

Our packs were fantastically small – I had a small rock climbing backpack and Tash had something similar. It was warm enough that I had only brought a sleep sack, a small Thermarest, and a tarp. It turned out to be perfect as the night was warm. The rock surface was not comfortable but the tarp and Thermarest helped.

The larger your pack, the less mobile, the less flexible, the more stuff you’ve carted in with you. A minimalist activity is well suited with minimal stuff.

My eyes began to get heavy.

The Visitor

Bush rat

No hot chips for you.

I am sure that as soon as I entered the park, that the entire kingdom was alerted to the smell of a paper bag containing a half-kilo of hot chips. Luckily most creatures in the park are afraid of man.

As I was about to drift off, I heard a noise in the bush next to me. I knew it wasn’t large, no bigger than a house cat and likely much smaller. Tash had been talking about a friend who owned lizards on the hike in, and how they existed in the park. I listened for the foot patterns of the animal, as if somehow I would determine “aha! that is clearly a mammilian scurrying cadence and not reptilian!”

As the movement neared me, I turned on my flashlight trying to catch a glimpse. It scurried (or crawled or hopped?) back into the bush. Finally after much cat and mouse, I caught it in the light. It was a small rodent.

From Tash’s site she wanted to know what in the world was going on. I told her a small mouse was around. The hot chips were certainly the draw, so I called upon my bear survival skills and broke a branch to hang my packback which contained the hot chips. Now, the nearest and best tree happened to be located a lot closer to Tash than me, which I swear I was not thinking about at the time.

The mouse stopped coming near my tarp. The next morning I learned that I didn’t fully deter him/her, but just refocused his attention on the new location of the backpack, so Tash had a few skirmishes of her own through the night.

The next morning, a google image search helped identify it as a bush rat. Tash was not happy that I had reported ‘a small mouse’ to find out it was a bush rat.

Morning

The hike out

The alarm went off, and we packed via flashlight, and quickly hit the trail. On the way out the trail looked different but familiar, the way that only a wilderness trail can have a completely different side in cloudy sunset or bold moonlight.

I felt full of life, half-sleepy, partially relieved, but mostly connected and at peace. We boarded the train back to the city, had breakfast at a cafe, and then parted ways to head to work. I showered, dressed, and began Friday. It was the best Friday I’d had in a long, long time.

Thanks to my friend Tash for introducing me to such an amazing, simple way to reconnect to the natural world.

The finish

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Fast 8: The Stumble of the Furious

Fast 8: The Stumble of the Furious

Fast8Massive spoiler alert: If like me, you like to be radio silent before watching the latest installment of the greatest 10-episode cinematic masterpiece ever made or ever to be made, don’t read this.

However, if you have seen it, read on. Mostly this blog is catharsis.

While The Fate of the Furious (#8) is nowhere near as bad as Tokyo Drift (#3), it’s a big, big speed bump after the height reached by “Furious 7”. Buckle your seat belts, you’re strapped in for 136 minutes of poorly planned roads, turns that make no senses, and you’re definitely not going to end up where you hoped you would.

In every Fast installment, there are ridiculous (impossible) stunts, steely eyed one-liners that you can only hope to chuckle at, and the abuse of comic relief.  But things generally hold together. Fast 8 generally falls apart.

There are four serious, serious problems with Fast 8.

Letty and Dom

fate8 letty

From the first movie, their relationship created a tension – a strong woman loved by a strong man where both seemed unable to be captured by anyone, except each other. When Letty is thought to have died in episode 4, Dom is tortured. When she returns and does not remember their relationship, even their marriage, Dom is again tortured. The silver cross necklace is the emblem of their relationship, their marriage.

In Fast 8, they pull Dom’s fling from Letty’s “presumed dead” period out of the woodwork, give her a kid from Dom. Dom bails on all his friends and Letty to save this woman, even leaves his silver cross with them.

Then at the end, when everyone understands why Dom betrayed them, let a terrorist manipulate him, and prove that the ends do justify the means, Letty takes him back in less than a 10-second quarter-mile. Letty is tough – one of the drivers in the crew, not just Dom’s missus. In Fast 8 they turn her into someone without backbone or character.

Dom: “Oh, hey, so while I thought you were dead, I slept with this woman and turns out she had a kid and didn’t tell me until both of them were kidnapped in a space age AWAX-like airplane. To make things less complicated, she’s dead. But the kid is alive.”

Letty: “That’s cool. I’ll totally treat him like my own. Let’s have an outdoor meal to end the movie.”

There is no question to me that the worst part of The Fate of the Furious is how they spat upon everything interesting and meaty in the relationship between Letty and Dom.

Villian turned comedy sidekick

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Deckard Shaw was an awesome villain in Furious 7. Seemingly unbeatable at times, slippery and uncatchable, inhumane and willing to kill anyone in his way.

The idea that he joins forces with the Furious, and that Hobbs comes to respect him is a slap in the face.

Hobbs: “Oh hey you murdered a ton of people just trying to visit your brother in the hospital, you killed a ton of guys stealing God’s Eye to give it to a warlord, but you did some good things when you were in the military so it’s all good.”

Aaaaaarrrgggh. I can suspend disbelief on mountainside semi trailer oil tanker flips. I can suspend disbelief on jumping a car from skyscraper to skyscraper. I can suspend disbelief on cars holding down a military transport aircraft. I can’t suspend disbelief on a character you’ve built up that now you’re going to empty.

Cipher thin

The third  flaw is the paper-thin villain of Cipher. The wardrobe, look, acting, and cinematography around Cipher (Charlize Theron)  reminded me of the bad guys in “V”, the horrendous yet addictive Sci-Fi miniseries of the early 80s. The bad aliens devoured live animals, and they would always do these slow close-ups where someone is lowering a live mouse into their mouth as the dramatic music built up, far too slowly to actually be scary or terrifying, but mostly ridiculous.

That’s how every scene with “Cipher” feels.

The over indulgence of hacking tech also surrounds her and the crap plot elements that Cipher brings with her. Honestly it’s possible that #45 might have been a script consultant – “more Cyber!”

Opening scene

I won’t spent time on this, because it’s just not worth it. It’s rubbish. Rubbish, rubbish, rubbish! Meaningless car race in Cuba? Some random new relative. Then the dude you beat appears later on the other side of the world to help out to some how tie this plot thread together? Yes, we did get the important car race, our required quota of Hello-Kitty-Ass, and Dom doing the impossible. But, it had no relationship to the plot whatsoever.

What was good

Fast8 Ice

  1. Stunts were great – Submarine ice chase was great. Zombie car chase in NYC was pretty awesome.
  2. The Deckard Shaw + baby carrier fight scene is action-film genious. The choreography plus cinematography – exceptional.
  3. Lucas Black (who plays the Gomer-Pyle-esque Sean Boswell) did not appear in this film. That was great.
  4. Roman was great. He’s always great.
  5. Lastly, I will tip my hat to having Brian’s name live on in the series, even though it’s as a result of a horrible plot device. Paul Walker, RIP. You deserved better than this film.

Overall did I enjoy Fast 8? Of course. I loved it. But I loved it a lot less than all the others (except for Tokyo Drift which I pretend never happened).

One more thing

The other CIA agent (Client Eastwood’s son) – it’s obvious he’ll be a character in future movies. Please don’t. I’m not going to mention his character’s name because I don’t ever want to hear it again. 

Citizen BJR

Citizen BJR

On Monday, March 6th, I became an Australian citizen. I’m incredibly proud to say I’m an Aussie. Oi, oi, o!

Ceremony 2

We’ve let another yank in?

But, since no matter what I write, most of you aren’t functionally literate beyond 140 characters, so I will do this in FAQ style:

1. Do you have to give up your U.S. Citizenship?

No, no I do not.

2. Do you want to give up your U.S. Citizenship?

No, no I do not. It is painful either to keep your U.S. Citizenship or to renounce it.

3. Why is it painful to keep your U.S. Citizenship?

As a yank working overseas, you still have to file U.S. taxes, and if any U.S. tax rate is higher than your country of residence, you pay the U.S. the difference. In one case I’ve had to pay a combined 80% tax rate, though that should only happen if your tax advisors are caught off guard or you live in a country with no tax treaty with the U.S., like most of Africa, or if you are really bad at maths. The U.S. is unique is being an extra special pain here.

4. Why is it painful to renounce your U.S. Citizenship?

Start with a minimum $2,350, highest in the world. Thanks so much to the greed of the U.S. Treasury and the actions of a facebook co-founder employee, the U.S. introduced an exit tax – the most basic explanation is that as you hand in your citizenship, we’d like tax on the “net unrealized gain in the individual’s property”, i.e. any unvested stock, stock options, unsold property – the IRS will estimate the future value of it and ask for all the tax now. Leeches.

5. Are you doing this because of Voldemort?

I wrote a blog about Voldemort before the U.S. Election. I don’t want to use his name in writing in a blog celebrating a big event in my life.

But my decision to become a citizen of Australia has nothing to do with the occasional resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

My quest for citizenship starting long before that no-talent ass-clown started winning Grammys.

6. Are you ever coming back to the states?

Yeah, sure. I’ll visit.

7. What made you decide to become a citizen?

Australia is my home. It’s where I want to spend the rest of my charmed life. It’s a strange thing because so many of the people who I care a ridiculous amount about: live in the states.

But, Australia is great for me. Even just two weeks in the states, and I’m itching to get off the spinning hamster wheel and get home. In Oz, there are many wonders: the pace of life, the land, and that nothing is a crisis. “She’ll be right, mate.” I’m lucky to get to live here. If I step back and think about the things that are the most important to me, outside of my friends and family, Australia has them all.

At a primal level, and potentially the most important, there is something about my connection with the ocean in Australia that I have never felt anywhere in the world. As well as the romantic relationships I have fostered with several wombats.

I announced my retirement a few years ago, and I knew Australia is where I wanted to retire. Eventually, somewhere North of Sydney, near the ocean, in a house with a garage full of bikes, I will start the next phase of my life.

8. So, you’re an immigrant?

Yes, and a proud one

There are a number of ex-pats I know who think of citizenship more like getting a local drivers license: just paperwork. To me, it was a conscious choice that this is my future home. That I am agreeing to the values of Australia. That I want to play my part in shaping the country through voting and action. That I will defend my country if we are invaded by Antarctica.

In becoming a citizen, I’m signing up to the Australian values. The citizenship process and the test reinforces a lot of the Australian values around equality*, and treatment of others.

From this time forward
I pledge my loyalty to Australia and its people,
whose democratic beliefs I share,
whose rights and liberties I respect, and
whose laws I will uphold and obey.

Note: Australia still has work to do: same-sex marriage is still not legal in Australia though it is supported by a large majority of Australians.

9. What’s the difference between permanent residency and citizenship

Citizenship is the state of being a citizen, while having permanent residency means your status as a resident in Australia is now permanent. I hope that clears it up.

10. How does one get Australian citizenship?

There’s got to be a good joke in here somewhere, filled with Aussie stereotypes, similar to the Alaskan joke with the punchline, “Now where’s that Eskimo woman I’ve got to kill?”

11. Was it hard for you to get Aussie citizenship, because of, well, you know….?

Depends on what you are talking about. Potential answers include:
– No, they don’t check down there.
– That has been expunged from the public record but not from the drapes.
– I can hold my breath longer than you might imagine.
– I was young, impressionable, and didn’t know there was a cartoon artist in the room.
– Yes.

Getting permanent residency, my transplant history did cause some extra work. The only hurdle in citizenship that I faced was that I hadn’t spent enough time in the country. You must be in the country more than 75% of the last year and 75% of the last four years. In 2015, I was well over the limit of unexcused absences. The only loophole to skip this rule is if you’re a CEO of a publicly traded company. I checked with my boss if we could swap places. He said no. So I had to wait another year.

12. Anything else you’d like to add.

Oi, oi, oi!

IMG_20170306_191135.jpg

I’m not sure I’ve ever looked so proud of myself

The Coaster 2016 & 2017

The Coaster 2016 & 2017

The Coaster

I won’t retell the history of the coaster, but it’s a complex New Year’s Resolution tradition that I’ve carried with me to Australia.

How did BJR do on last year’s Coaster?

BJR did poorly.

  1. Writing Mum a handwritten card once/month. DeliveredWhen I visited Mom, she had several cards displayed. In the world of email, a handwritten note can have more meaning than it used to.
  2. Microadventure with my pal Tash once a quarter – 0/4. Didn’t even do one. Huge fail.
  3. Meditation – this went away after one month. Unfocused.
  4. Sub 11 hour Ironman at Cairns – this one disappeared quickly. Without question the least training I’ve done for any half or full. Led to “retirement” from triathlon. Slow.
  5. Swim 250K in the last six months of the year.  Maybe I did 10K total in those six months. Drowned.
  6. Apply for Aussie Citizenship. Good on ya! And passed my test. Just waiting to be sworn in…
  7. Raise $100K for Room to Read. Proud. My friends are crazy generous.
  8. Private goal A: Failed. 
  9. Private goal B: Failed.

So, 3/9 is a pretty poor year. That’s an F- for those of you scoring at home (insert your favorite scoring at home joke here – actually insert mine, mine is funnier).

How does BJR feel about 2016 in general?

In response to all the dramatic emotional outbursts about 2016 and the death of celebrities, I recently said:

Stop anthropomorphizing an arbitrary revolution of the earth around the sun. It bears you no ill will.

So, while yes, 2016 is an arbitrary period of time, it does give us all a chance to reflect. There is no shortage of things I should be grateful for, and at the same time, a mountain of ways I could have been a better human. But to try and sum it up in a few simple statements:

  • I am proud of the people I work with, and amazed by them every day.
  • My inability to understand my own limits not only caused myself, but others, a great deal of pain.
  • I am fortunate beyond anything I could possibly deserve, and need to spend more time appreciating that
  • I need to spend more time serving others and less time on a laptop, iPad, or phone.

Best of ’16

bjr-atop-kepler-track-in-snow

  • Best Movie: Captain Fantastic
  • Best Movie made before last year but I hadn’t seen: Warrior
  • Best Night’s Sleep: first night in Poland in late November.
  • Best Yogurt: Greek (specifically the Tamar stuff)
  • Best Non-fiction Book: Sapiens
  • Best Adventure: Kepler Track with NVB
  • Best Day: Cycling in the mountains around Barcelona
  • Comeback Fruit of the Year: Peaches

In the year of our BJR two-thousand-and-seventeen

This year’s coaster ceremony was a tight knit group. We moved from the home of the Buntings to try something new, to a Japanese restaurant (still not quite the pub origins of the coaster). Overall, this coaster probably doesn’t push my limits as much as some have in the past, but last year I simply over-committed and as a result was miserable in many aspects of my life. So, here’s 2017:

1. Be the fly that hits the wall

The World Transplant Games record for the 200m Individual Medley for age group 40-49 is 03.01.99. Mr T. O’Hagan of the United Kingdom, I think I can get within 30 seconds of that. We’ll see. Right now, I can only do about 15m of Butterfly, and I’ll need to get to 50m.

2. Mum, it’s me. Your son. Your son Bryan. The one in Australia.

I didn’t talk to Mum nearly enough this year. I will call Mum every three weeks. Minimum talk time: 30 minutes.

3. Secret Squirrel

My friends put this one on my Coaster. I’m an open book. Perhaps too open. Regardless, I now must go on three dates with the same person, and not tell a single other soul (other than the person I’m on the date with). I’m still not sure if my friends think it’s not healthy for me to talk about all the details of my life, or whether they are just sick of hearing me talk and will find any reason to shut me up.

4. Me llamo Bryan. ¿Donde están sus pantalones?

I will visit Spain twice this year, first for our European customer conference in Barcelona, and then again for the World Transplant Games in Málaga. I studied Spanish in high school, but it’s stale and at best ‘survival Spanish’ and I’d love to rekindle my meager conversational skills. I’ll spend two hours each month from January through June speaking Spanish with a fluent speaker, and dealing with them laughing at my horrible verb conjugation. Voy a la playa con su hermana. No, no – Fuí a la playa con su madre.

5. Build a Belly

A few good friends are Buddhists, and my travels in Cambodia have made me want to understand it more. I’ll spend 15 hours studying Buddhism this year to understand the history, the philosophy, and the practice. I hear reincarnation is making a comeback (not a BJR original, 100% plagiarism).

6. Hermit on the Horizon

At some point in my life, I will flee the city of Sydney and head to a smaller town. Ideally, I’d live on the beach somewhere between Forster and Noosa. But, I actually know next to nothing about most of the towns along that coastal stretch. So, I’ll take at least a week long trip North of Sydney to figure out if that’s really the someday-future home of BJR.

7. Where’s the Beef?

I will have 2 servings or less of red meat in the entire year of 2017. I don’t each much red meat – even after discovering that lamb is red meat (they are white on the outside, so I just assumed). I’m going to cut it out entirely this year, largely for ecological reasons. It’s a small measure, but every year I try and reduce my footprint a little bit more, while still keeping my feet the same size. My friends suggested I allow myself 2 servings in case of emergency, like if I’m trapped in an elevator with a cow and a BBQ for 24 hours. Note that would still count in my book as 1 serving.

8. Build a Clock

I can’t provide the details on this one. It’s private, because it impacts other people, and I want them to be surprised when I build my army of sociopathic robots. I, for one, welcome our new artificially intelligent overlords.

9. Kampouchea

Before the end of the year, I will return to Cambodia. Just thinking about this makes me smile.

Onward

Here’s to a great 2017.

Around the World in 60 hours

In late November and early December, I did my first around-the-world trip, Australia-Poland-US-Australia. Two weeks, 7 flights, 60 hours of travel time.

Simple outcome: I learned a decent amount about others and myself.

Gdansk, Poland

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Snow! Made the whole trip worthwhile. Walking on the frozen ground to work in the morning, even the graffiti seemed to fit into the snowscape. 

I’ve been to Gdansk, Poland four times now. Three flights to get there, about 34.5 hours from leaving Manly Beach to arriving at the corporate apartment. This was by far the best trip, although I didn’t see Malbork Castle, or even visit Old Town once. I simply focused on the purpose of my trip. I knew the grocery store well enough to buy the right foods, and every morning, a prison-cell workout (confined space), two breakfasts, and I was ready to start the day. As long as I wasn’t at work, if my body said “I want to sleep,” I slept. No attempt to adjust to time zone, just let it happen.

I constantly fill my time with too much. On this visit, I said “No” more than “Yes”, and ended up healthier and happier. Go figure.

Time with family

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I really love my family. Seriously – ignore the facial expression.  And Mom was actually awake at dinner. Promise.

Thanks to the Lufthansa strike, there was a small ripple of early morning chaos, but the airlines and one of my co-workers had smoothed everything out. I visited Copenhagen for the first time, but only to go from one gate to another in the airport.

Landing in DC, I spent the weekend in Stafford, Virginia, with the largest collection of my immediate family. My sister’s family and my mom both live there, and two of my nephews returned for the weekend. Every single minute there is great: helping Mom grocery shop, walk in a nearby park with my sister, a dinner out.

While home is Australia, where my sister lives will always be a place that’s special to me.

San Francisco

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Power to the people. Her sweatshirt reads “Health Care not Warfare.”

Desperately seeking difference

I’ve always worried that in a different time, I would have let tyranny happen, or even worse. I’ve never been drawn to protest or to activism. What would it take to get me out of work, off the bike, out of the pool, and into the streets. Well, it turns out, Trump.

There had been protests in SF, and I was hoping I could join in while I was in SF. Honestly, I am probably not politically aligned with most of the folks who would be in an SF protest, but part of what I wanted to do was expose myself (ahem) to people with different thoughts, different opinions, and actually listen. I’ve been barking for years about how neither side of the fence actively listens to the other (I know from experience, having been someone for years who could only absorb arguments that agreed with me). Selection bias is alive and possibly more powerful than ever.

Alas, no protests were scheduled (turns out there is an online schedule for political activism!) But there was a meeting of the Progressive Democrats of America on “the TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership) in a post-Trump era.” The TPP is a big deal to Australia, so I thought I could get educated and listen to people who I would never encounter on a daily basis.

After dinner, I slipped a gray wool jumper over my “I voted for Gary Johnson” t-shirt, and entered the Fireside Room at the Unitarian Church.

Progressive Democrats of America

My first thought was that I had stepped into a cabin in North Dakota. About 30 people in total, and I was the second youngest person in the room. Equally balanced between men and women, the audience was mostly white. Not a single button down shirt in view. Doing the math, I realized most of this group were teenagers in the 70s, so they were not the 60s hippies but certainly had a memory of the Vietnam War that I do not.
A few items of business passed slowly: Bernie’s influence and getting pervasive agenda items in the national forum, the 60th anniversary of the human rights declaration in 1948, passing around some stickers, and collecting about 10 signatures for a letter to Pelosi. I wondered what the punishment was if they found out a libertarian was in their midst? Stoning? Tattooing? Forcing him to surrender his property to the state? Mind, open back up.
 My first spark of interest came around a mention of driving corporate money out of elections (a big hot button for me – New Zealand’s limits on campaign contributions are much more sensical). I shared the same passion with everyone in the room for reducing corporate influence on elections.
Then the talk on the TPP began. ‘International Law’ has always seemed ridiculous to me, and international partnerships without an enforcement arm has always puzzled me. The three speakers had a very anti-trade partnership perspective – primarily that trade partnership agreements are a way to create, in a non-transparent fashion, agreements that can overrule existing environmental, labor, and other regulations, or force congress hand to adopt the agreements, then becoming enforceable laws (i.e “policy laundering”). I won’t get into the details, but it was fascinating. The time was already well spent to hear the other side of a story that the Australian press largely treated as “TPP good for Australia.”
My favorite aside of the three talks, was when one speaker described the coming Trump Administration as “The most corrupt oligarchical administration in history. A cabinet of billionaires. Prepare for the selling off of our country to the highest bidder.” I’d have to agree with what I’ve seen so far.
I certainly heard opinions that don’t even make it into the mainstream media:
  • “Don’t use Google” (because of their support of the mainstream Democratic party, I think). Sorry, still going to Google stuff.
  • “Trumps victory was a movement victory, not a campaign victory.” Groups of people do take independent action, that campaigns cannot withstand.
  • “Boycott Wells Fargo” – as it’s backing the Dakota pipeline project. I don’t know if I’ll cancel my account today, but I will register my opinion with my bank and make sure they understand it makes them a less desirable option.
  • The Digital millennium copyright act failed in Congress, but similar agreements were then snuck into trade agreements, meaning our democratic process is being circumvented.
My favorite speaker was Ernesto Balcon, a member of the EFF. Since Mitch Kapor was the chairman of the company I started, and John Perry Barlow spoke at one of my Stanford classes, I knew a bit about the EFF, and have always held it in the highest regard. Ernesto only reinforced my opinion of the EFF.

Non partisan partisans

The best part about this group was that while their focus was politics, they were not political.”This is about the issues, not about what party you belong to.” That while they identified as a group with a specific set of beliefs, that they were open to others and wanted them to join their causes, not necessarily their party. “We share a lot of ideology with  Libertarians.” I wanted to rip off my jumper and out myself right there, but I held back. It could be a trap.
All in all, the PDA session (ahem) delivered – I heard new thoughts, I heard opinions I disagreed with but I listened and understood why we differed. Many times we wanted the same thing, but believed in a different way to get there.
I need to find other outlets to make sure I keep hearing opinions that are different from my own, and even from the mainstream lines we get fed from conservative and liberal news media alike.

Arriving Home

I arrived home better than I left – an unusual event, and even more surprising given that I didn’t stay in a single time zone longer than six full days, and that I had circumnavigated the earth.

Looking back on the trip – there’s a lot of goodness. I accepted my own limits. I listened to others to try to expand my world view. I focused on my responsibilities. I ate a lot of greek yogurt.

BJR and NVB in NZ

In August of 1997, I was done working for a morally bankrupt company (Trilogy) and planned to start Reactivity with John and Brian in January of the next year.

So I took two months off, and with my girlfriend at the time (who later graduated to ex-wife), we cycled for two months around New Zealand.

Wow, this is a really positive sounding start to a blog.

On October 28th, 2016, I returned to New Zealand for the first time – and had to relearn its magic all over again. With a great friend in tow (Nick, hereon referred to as NVB), the South Island of New Zealand once again submerged me in a dream I didn’t want to leave.

bjr-on-ridge-in-kepler

Welcome back

I often have major packing failures. As the plane descended, the JetStar (can’t believe I agreed to fly JetStar) pilot announced that it was 7 degrees C outside. At this point, I’m wearing a t-shirt, and realizing the one thing I did not pack was a jacket (this after reminding NVB that “it’s going to be cold, Singapore boy. Dress appropriately.”) Dropping $$$ at Kathmandu with 5 minutes left to spare before the store closed changed that (and helped me realize that Kathmandu has an h – who knew?) and I was outfitted for the trek.

I’ve packed Patrick White’s Tree of Man for this trip. It’s a beast to carry, and the first few pages are dense. This book might be more painful than the hike.

Hitchhiker

I haven’t hitchhiked since I was in my 20s, and I haven’t picked up a hitchhiker in a long, LONG time (maybe also in my 20s). As Nick and I left Queenstown, we passed a hitchhiker, and I mentioned that if there’s a place to pick one up, between Q-town and Te Anau is probably the safest place on earth. Around the next corner, we picked up a 20-something French girl with a Russian name who managed to talk almost non-stop for the next 3 hours, which helped the drive go faster. I am always a bit mystified by people who just travel – she had been on the road for a couple of years, stopping, working, traveling, stopping, working, traveling. I think I need to at least pretend there’s a higher purpose in life, or be very explicit that I have no illusions and I’ve just given up.

The highlight of the conversation was NVB asking her to tell us which nationalities were the best and which were the worst. Apparently Turkish people are stellar!

Kepler Track

Day 1 – Ascent into Luxmore!

We hit the trail after Noon, expecting it would be a late arriving into the Luxmore hut. Each day was about a 15-16k hike, with a little more than half of this day being ascending into the mountains. It has been a while since I carried a pack, but my legs felt great, and I like to move at a quick pace, the cool air helping keep the pace high. We made it into camp earlier than I expected. The huts of NZ tracks are seriously posh – mattresses! And gas stoves! And running water you can drink! While you are staying inside a bunk room with up to 20 other people, the huts make it a lot easier than tent camping.

The views from the hut are breathtaking – partially because the air was cold, but mostly because you don’t have to see another human being for ever looking 360 degrees from the hut. Just mountains, lakes, green. My mind wanders forward to a time when I can travel for months, to not see another human for days, or maybe even weeks.

Peter the Ranger gave us a safety talk with a few hijinks like pulling a dead stoat out of his pocket and pretending it bit him. Peter’s humor delivery doesn’t change tone for punch lines, and his white out-of-control beard masks any facial expressions.

NVB did incredibly well today, and he’s possibly the best travel companion I’ve ever had. Talkative, quiet at the right times, easy-going, and clear about what he wants. This trip was a good choice.

Day 2 – The best of days, the worst of days

The first half of this day was the best section of the entire trip.

The second half was the worst.

We left Luxmore hut to check out the limestone caves just a few minutes from the hut. Inside the cave, my headlamp wasn’t helping at all. Too dark, too slippery, too dangerous. Then I realized we were still wearing sunglasses. Taking those off helped.

The path climbed further, close to the peak of Mt. Luxmore, where we dropped packs and scrambled up to the summit. I decided to run to the top, which was a bad idea. I’d need that energy for later.

bjr-atop-kepler-track-in-snow

At our lunch stop we met a Dutch chick who was crushing a couple of Canucks – she was hardly breathing while they struggled to get up the last few feet to the “lunch table” outside an emergency shelter. The PB&honey sandwiches were golden.

nvb-on-ridge-day-2-kepler

We walked along ridges that dropped off sharply on either side, feeling like we were skirting the spine of the world. I couldn’t imagine a better day.

nvb-over-lake-on-day-2-of-kepler

And then the trail began to descend.

Within two hours, we had run out of food and water. NVB had broken his right kneecap, and I was losing a lot of blood. I fought off the dizziness and the desire to just lie down and sleep. We could hear the stoats around us, smelling death. Our compass and the terrain contradicted the map at every step, and we knew we were lost. We had no shelter, and the rain was turning into sleet. We were frozen one moment, and burning the next. The trail was jagged, and another misstep could end us. I knew everything depended on the next 15 minutes, and I didn’t think both of us could make it. It was then that I knew, I would have to kill NVB and eat him to survive. I’d start with the shoulder.

No, no, no. It wasn’t that bad. But the trail dropped sharply, and descending has always hurt me – the impact of the pack proved I haven’t kept in the shape I need to be, and my feet and ITBs were taking a beating. It went on forever, and I could tell NVB was hurting. The next three hours seemed like six.

By the time we reached the Iris Burn hut, NVB was near delirious, and was sick with a virus.

That night the Ranger (Robbie) explained to the hut that we could either pack our trash our or he could kill us in our sleep. Or maybe not come pack to the park, I forget which. But this Ranger should be made Warden, it’s more fitting. Rose, the other ranger smiled mutely. I’m betting she’s the one that will choke us out if Robbie says the word.

That night, the kiwi birds mating calls echoed on the lake. Get a room.

Day 3 – Turning the corner

We started the day with a walk to a nearby waterfall – a spectacular waterfall in every other country in the world, but simply par for the course for the South Island. Amazing.

Most people headed all the way out on day 3 – covering over 30K. I know in my heart I could have done it, but it would have been brutal (and we would have had to start a lot earlier). So our pace was fine with me.

The train followed a beautiful forecast rolling path along river, crossing wooden and metal bridges.

A couple hundred Stoat and rat traps flourish through the entire route, though all are empty. I knocked on each one to see if anyone was home. Since the traps have not been as effective as hoped , a “1080 campaign” (dropping poison pellets from the sky) to rid the wilderness of non-native predators brought over by the POMs – species which have extinguished 50+ species of flightless birds and are threatening more.

Along the path, NVB and told stories of relationships, of hitting bottom, in redemption. NVB’s cold worsened. At this point I didn’t realize how bad it is. NVB is a tough SOB. He kept moving, step after step, without complaint.

Near the end, a derelict boat along the shore of Lake Manupouri welcomed us in advance of the hut.

I jumped in the lake for a swim to clean up, and made it five strokes before I realized the water was so cold I could barely inhale.

Day 4 – Exit

Our final day had minimal rolling and was mostly flat. My ITB was bad from the start, but it was only one day left!

As we entered a clear, a wooden platform extended to a broad, expansive field. I felt I was at the podium, addressing a vast crowd rallied in the meadow. I pictured my armies of stouts, 100s of 1000s strong, ready to dine on the fowl of the land. “Stoats! Today is our day! Today we take revenge on our oppressors! They have trapped our brothers by the hundreds! They have rained poison from the sky upon us! Join me, and today we have our revenge. Tonight, we dine in hell! Or maybe around a nice fire.”

NVB and I were wondering if the US Presidential election was today (it was a week later). Seems like we should have known that. “First Tuesday” sounds right, but we’re not sure. World Series? (Nick is a big fan of The Tribe).

The path was beautiful – and as a bonus, there were 2 rats in traps!!

Hours later, I’d had enough walking. And we were done.

bjr-and-nvb

Milford and beyond

On the drive up to Milford from Te Anau, I started to feel a scratch in my throat. I thought positive thoughts, hoping I wouldn’t get ill.

On the drive up to Milford, I passed the bus shelter where we had stored our bikes. It looked exactly as I remembered and pictured it. in 1998, we had to hide our bikes behind the shelter since it was snowing and our hands couldn’t hold on to the brakes anymore. Memories keep coming back.

I got rid of all the photos from my 1998 New Zealand trip long ago – in fact probably burned some at some point in a misguided attempt at catharsis. But despite two-decade-old memories that foretold betrayal and loss, New Zealand is a special place that can’t be tarnished.

New Zealand, I will be back!

view-from-luxmore-area

Australian Transplant Games 2016

Australian Transplant Games 2016

History repeats itself

Last week was my third time competing in the Aussie transplant games. And I made the same mistake the third year in a row.
The first year I really didn’t know much about it. I took a train to Newcastle, and just ran the 5K as a part of the opening ceremonies, and then took a train home. Just meeting a few people there, I realized I should have come for the whole week.
Two years ago, in Melbourne, I spent most of the week there, but only participated in about three days of events, and worked the other half of the time.
This year, I participated in four of the 9 days of events – and again, left knowing I should have done more. Yes, work, deadlines, a big event coming up. But this week is a chapter in the most important story of my life – the fact that I got a second chance.

People not Medalsolympian-poolside

The first question most people ask me is “How did you do? Did you win any medals?” It misses the whole point of the games. It’s a miracle any of us are even suiting up for the games, much less being competitive.
Every minute is humbling. You met another athlete whose story you can’t believe.
Meet Adam, who is under 20 but has had a transplanted liver for something like 17 years now, and smiles bigger that the length of the pool.

Meet Kate, the first woman with a heart + double lung transplant to complete a half-Ironman.

Meet Andy, who ran the 5k with me who has a double lung transplant. But his training has been rough lately – because he’s currently undergoing chemo for liver cancer.
Meet Rodney, who swam (incredibly well) who had a double lung transplant 18 months ago. When he got a silver medal, his eyes welled up with tears.
I reconnected with people I met two years ago.
After spending so much time around triathletes, all too obsessed with podiums and winning their age group, this group is a special one. Now, they still are putting everything out there, pushing themselves to the limit, and they are competitive. But the times and the medals take a back stage to the reason we’re there.
Lining up for the race is the biggest accomplishment for us, and that the success of any of us in the games starts with the gift from our donors, contains an incredible amount of luck, and then we add in our own dash of effort.
I watched a man over 60 years of age complete the 30k cycling road race – who didn’t even know how to change gears on a bike. He was pushing the bike up hills because he hadn’t figured out how to shift down. But his smile was the biggest of any of us .

Community

I still have a community allergy – I have a hard time being part of a group, even an amazing one like this one. I found myself often looking for a place to be alone and just take in what was around me. It’s a little overwhelming at times.

So, answer the damn question. How did you do?

time-trial-start

My worst performance was certainly the cycling 5k time trial – I didn’t warm up, and my lungs just felt terrible the whole time (which is no time at all in cycling). It feels pretty lame when you complain about your lungs and the person next to you doesn’t have their original ones.

The first ever triathlon at the transplant games was punctuated for me by two punctured tubes, so I had no way to complete the final 10k. I DNF’d but still ran the run course. Normally something like that would bother me for days. But the spirit of the games is too positive, too wonderful to let something like that bother me.

The Sunday 5k run is the best time I’ve posted (just around 20 minutes flat) though I think the course was 200m short. Still, the wheels haven’t fallen off (yet), and I was the fourth person across the line, and the second transplant recipient.  In the 30k road race, I managed to fight and hang on until it was down to the final five of us, until the last 400m, when I was subsequently out-sprinted by almost 100m.

I felt great about all of my swims, though as the day went on, I definitely had less energy and began to drag in the 400m. I was certainly slower than 2 years ago. I did backstroke in one relay, which makes me want to train for the 200 IM for two years from now.

España?

Si, con mucho gusto. The World Transplant Games are in Spain in July. Why not?