Beating Your Fears Like The Neighborhood Bully

We are on vacation doing what my wife refers to as soft adventure. That means we are doing fun things with some risk but under the watchful eyes of trained guides.

I had read the preliminary itinerary a month ago. When I came to rappelling down waterfalls, I hesitated. No not hesitated, I started to hyper-ventilate.  I have an extreme fear of heights. Technically it is a fear of being on the edge of something where I could fall to my death. If we are hiking in the mountains, I need a path that is either not on the edge or extremely wide so I can hug the inside lane. Some situations appear to affect me more than others. From what I can tell it has to do with whether I can see the edge and the nothingness beyond. If there are protections to my vision, say a line of trees blocking the nothingness that I would fall through on my voyage top death, then I my be OK.

So here I am, a man who does not like to be on the edge (literally or figuratively) reading about how my family will be purposely be leaping off a cliff with nothing but a string to hold onto. OK, it’s a rope but the difference is really not that much.

I am also a man who wants to demonstrate to his son that fears can be overcome. At least sometimes. So I said yes a month ago and now a month later was this morning.

A I am getting my gear on I still do not know if I will be able to go through with this. The problem is that a truck has left us in the middle of a jungle and has driven away. I am not sure what the small team of guides will do if someone in the group does not go forward. Back is not an option. I take comfort in the fact that these adventure tour places get lousy press when someone dies and so it must be safe. Right?

We will be rappelling 5 walls. The first is the highest at 165 feet. The cliff wall is a shear drop. It is my turn. Left hand loose on the rope as a guide. Right hand is your brake. You hold it straight down at your side. Lean all the way back. Push with your legs. Fall.

I hate the overuse of the word “amazing”. Not everything is amazing. This was. At first I was hesitant at first to let myself drop very far at a time.  But down I went. At one point I let go. It was a gas. Four rappels later and I was ready to sign up for more. Now that I sort of knew what I was doing I wanted the highest one again. I would drop like a stone  for 150 feet and love it.

The adrenaline was flowing so strong that my senses were on overdrive. I had the sights of the waterfalls, the jungle around us and the ground below as I descended. I could feel the subtleness of the of warmth in the air combining with the coollness from my wet clothes into a refreshing touch on my skin.

I still do not know how real people climb up mountains or rappel down them when they are not with guides doing most of the work to keep you safe. That is real adventure not soft adventure and I am will to leave that to the adventurous.

All I know is that I lept into the abyss against all of my instincts. I beat those fears back. And I am ready to do it again.

Ps. I will post pictures and a short video on my Facebook page in a week or so.

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Road to Exhaustion

No, not a remake of an obscure Hope/Crosby movie (does that date me or what).

No, I rode the road to exhaustion today.

I had been riding stronger. Each of the last two weeks I had finished my 52 mile North route. Last week with good weather and little wind I even finished at a 15.6 mph pace which is good for me.

I have been wanting to ride 60 since that would be an indication that maybe I could compete and complete a century ride this year. I had skipped last year after 2 years in a row. I did not have the legs for 60 last week. This week, I am bach-ing it for the weekend so I could go to sleep early on Saturday and not worry about being tired on Sunday.

Also, it was time to switch things up. I had not ridden the South route yet this year. The Southern route is more crowded as it goes through the Chicago lakefront path and even early in the morning it is lousy with bikers, runners, walkers, skaters and dogs. On the other hand it is far more scenic so South it was.

I flew from my house to the South Shore Country Club 22.5 miles away. Being an experienced rider I knew that I had not suddenly become Lance Armstrong on steroids (forgive the redundancy). No, I knew that the 17.5 mile pace was due in large part to the wind being at my back. Unfortunately I now had to ride into it for 22.5 miles home. And it was fierce.

I averaged about 12.5 mph on the way back. Each pedal cycle took incredible effort and sent needles of pain through my thighs. Not much fun.

As I finally willed myself to within a few miles from my home, I started thinking, “can I go 60 today?” “Nooo” was the response from my legs. “Do not even think about it.” “What about my normal 52 or at least 50. How can I justify riding only 45 today?”

My legs just laughed in that guttural hyena laugh that implies something other than humor. “You tortured us long enough, we are headed for the couch and you should really think about coming with us.”

What else could I say? What else could I do?

Today I rode the road to exhaustion.

Where Have All The Blog Posts Gone?

Long time passing…

Too much work. Too tired.  At least those seems to be the main reasons why I now post twice a month instead of twice a week. There are certainly things to say. It’s a fascinating, though often scary world out there.

Two posts in one. Both about Time. (Warning. Fascinating but long. You may want to settle in with a drink before starting.)

I Suck at Taking Time Off  (Should have been posted 7/24/2010)

I have been working my ass off for the last year with limited vacation. I usually take time off the last two weeks of the year which allows me to recharge the batteries going into my busy season. Not this last year. In addition to Christmas and New Years Day I  managed only two extra days. I started the year tired.

I did take a week of spring break and watched my son play his first college baseball games. My choice of what to do but not restful.

In February I did what I had sworn never to do again. I took on major managerial responsibilities. In large professional services firms where you still have to sell and bill time, the many hours of time spent on people issues gets you very little credit. Being a fantastic manager but not selling can get you fired. Why did i do it? Because we went through a big reorganization and there were a lot of young professionals who needed leadership and there was no logical second choice. I could not let them down.

The next several months are a blur of work,  gallons of coffee and too little sleep. Now it is near the end of July and I see a small window of time. From July 2o-23 there is nothing on my calendar.  I am taking vacation days I declare to the world. Yea sure.

Each day was no less than 6 hours of work though no more than eight. Sure this is better than 10- 12 hours and I saved the 1.5 hour per day commute by “vacationing” at home. Am I just some self-important clown who feeds the feeling of importance by taking on everything. NO. Or at least I don’t think so. Truly important, unexpected  client or sales matters came up that could not wait and could not be delegated.

I had planned to sleep, exercise and spend time with my son and my wife. A small amount of this happened. One day I jammed a two-hour bike ride in between client calls. Another day I spent 4 hours with my son. And on that Friday after an intense 6 hours across three different clients, my wife pulled me out of the house so we could eat lunch together (at 3:30) and hang out together for the rest of the day.

The funny thing is that I get an extra 5 weeks vacation this year on top of the 4 weeks I already cannot find time to take. It is a “benefit” provided by the company every 5 years to allow people to refresh. Funny. BTW if you don’t take it you lose it. I could in theory take off the last quarter of the year. I just would not have a job when I came back. That sucks.

Finally A Day Off  (Should have been posted 8/8/2010)

Friday August 6. A day like any other day, except It was a work day that I did not work.

One of the best weather days of this summer. 80s instead of 90s, sunshine and low humidity. After the last time off fiasco I grabbed this day and held on for dear life. It was the first day of an outstanding 3 day weekend.

Friday. Slept late. took my time getting out. %2 mile bike ride. First of that length in weeks. Had hoped to do 60 but the legs would not cooperate.

Had a play tickets for 7:30 that night. My wife and I had discussed going away that weekend since our teenage son was to spend the weekend going to Lollapalooza. Both had busy weeks and as of 6 pm on Friday we had no reservation. 20 calls later we found a B&B in Saugatuck, Mi. for Saturday night. The play was nothing special. We came home and through some things together for the weekend.

Saturday. The day centered around a 33 mile bike ride on the Kal-Haven trail. It is a converted railroad line that is not a  packed dirt and limestone riding trail connecting Kalamazoo and South Haven in Michigan. 33 .5 mile long with most of it surrounded by trees. Another perfect day for a bike ride. Riding with my wife is a different experience than riding on my own. Riding together is recreation, on my own is exercise. However given her overall level of conditioning she keeps a remarkably strong pace.

The entire ride experience took about 4.5 hours starting at noon/1pm depending on time zone. Starting in South Haven we made it about half way. A round trip of 67 miles was never in the cards. Unfortunately the shuttle that takes you from one end back to where you started was not in operation that day. We had not eaten much before the ride having woken up and went straight to packing our clothes and bikes in the car.  By 16 miles we were looking for food and a break.

We found both in Bloomingdale. The trail went directly through downtown Bloomingdale which consisted of a deli/ice cream parlor (closed) a Pizza place and a small grocery store.  Nothing looked appetizing. I stopped a local coming out of the grocery to ask where to eat. He suggested the town of Grand Junction 6 miles away. Not happening. Need to eat NOW. He drove off but a minute later he circled back to tell us that the pizza place was good.

It was. My wife had a burrito and I had the taco salad.  Each weighed in at about 4 pounds — more food than we wanted– and both were amazingly tasty.  We ate in the small pack across the street. The owner brought the food to us in the park, how small town wonderful. We took our time, ate, rested and then headed back.

All in all a wonderful ride and experience.

We headed up to our B&B. After showers we both felt like laying down but it was evening and this was a one night stand so we went to explore the towns. There are two towns in the area, Douglas and Saugatuck. Both fall into the small, Midwest vacation towns for big city types to get away from it all. There are many scattered throughout Wisconsin and Michigan. We have only been to a few and these were new to us. About a 3.5 hour drive. About as far as I would drive for a weekend.

Douglas is tiny. Three blocks of restaurants and a smattering of art galleries. Saugatuck is bigger and more interesting. On Lake Michigan and with a river at one end. Several square blocks of restaurants shops and galleries. By the time we got there fatigue from the biking had begun to set in. It took almost 30 minutes to find a place to park. But the beauty of the  night pulled us along.

We checked out the first set or restaurants we came to coming from the parking lot. First Marilyn’s (yes Monroe. Why? No Idea). The a BBQ place. Too much food, we had a late lunch. I was too tired to take the four steps to look at the menu for Scooter’s, the last restaurant on the block but my wife insisted. Serendipity. I have been gluten-free for a few years and I HATE it. I have been loud in my lust for pizza generally and several times today. When we saw they had a gluten-free pizza I was in vacation heaven.

We sat outside, people watched as I waited in anticipation. No gluten-free crust will every surpass a wheat one but this was not bad and it dripped with cheese, sausage and spinach. We spent the rest of the evening getting our bearings around town, stopping in a few shops and thinking about how to spend the next day.

Sunday. What my wife wanted to do more than anything else was spend a day at the beach. So naturally we were a little disappointed with the overcast skies on our way to breakfast and yet could only laugh as we sat on the enclosed porch of our B&B and it began to pour. Buckets of water.

Reacting to one’s fortunes are so dramatically different when one is tired and stressed versus when one is happy and relaxed. We took the rain in stride and headed off to the cute coffee shop in town determined to have a quiet drink, read the NY Times and just relax. We stopped at a blueberry picking place on the way but just bought them rather than picking them in the rain.

By the time we finished the paper and our drinks the skies began to clear. BTW, I rarely read the NYT unless I have a business trip to NY. It is the last of the great daily papers. So many thought-provoking articles and editorials. At one time my own Chicago Tribune was just a half step down but now it is a shadow of its former self. The NYT is great. I hope it survives and thrives in this new media world.

More serendipity as we walked the town and ran into three twenty something girls headed to climb Mt. Baldhead. We did not even know there was such a thing and we like to hike. The day was getting sunnier and warmer. After the rains it was turning into a beautiful day. To climb Mt. Baldhead you start with 302 stairs straight up (I counted later on the way down).  Riding a bike not only does not prepare the body for climbing but two days in a row of biking weakens key body parts. The stairs were hard. Once on top we found some trails. My wife and a deer startled each other — better a deer than a bear.  After awhile we took the trail that leads to Olive beach.

It is a lovely beach but now we were there without our chairs, swimsuits and reading materials. So as was the theme of this weekend, we would go with the flow. Off came our shoes and we strolled hand in hand along the beach. I would come back to this beach some day. But this day we climbed back up the mountain, down the stairs and decided to head towards home with a stop in South Haven (another small town on the way to Chicago) for lunch.

Downtown South Haven seemed a bit more run down than quaint but we found a place on the water for lunch and continued to enjoy a great weekend.

The last stop on the way home was at a Dairy Queen in my old Chicago neighborhood a few miles from our Evanston home. By the time we got home we were hot, tired and happy.

A great weekend. I knew days off were both possible and well worth it. Now if we can find some time to do this again.

The Good News…

…is that I got home from a business trip at 12:50 am.

That begs the question, “Does that count as good news?” I have been up since 6:30 am. Kind of a long day. I am home approximately 9 hours after my meeting ended.

It could have been worse. I could have been stuck tonight in Kingsport, TN.. getting on the 5:30 am flight tomorrow…oh wait, I mean later this morning. Or I could have been forced to sleep at the Comfort Suites near the Charlotte, NC airport ( a pit of a hotel).  So yes, getting home near 1 am IS the good news.

I am such a glass half full kind of guy!