Monday, December 1, 2014

#9 - Take My Family Out To Dinner

For the first time in 6 years, I made it back to Minnesota for Thanksgiving.  One of the big highlights of the time was taking my family out to dinner.  This may not seem like a big deal to most people, but it is to me.  With my parents always treating the family to dinners throughout my life, and with my brother occasionally offering as well, I wanted to have that moment.  I've never financially been in a situation where I can do things like that, so I wanted to save for the opportunity to treat my family to something fun.

With my brother's suggestion, my parents, my brother, Kristen and I went to Smack Shack in downtown Minneapolis.  We each ordered our own dishes, but it ended up being pretty family style - everyone trying things that everyone else ordered, and there was lots of great conversation and laughter.

This was exactly what I had in mind when I put this on the list - a fun, enjoyable feast with the family.

It was perfect.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

#10 - Get Baptized

For a more complete backstory, read this post I wrote a while ago.

After what seems like an eternity of going through my spiritual journey, I have decided to trust my heart and follow my faith, which is a journey I am happy to continue to pursue for the rest of my life.

Since I can now confidently say I am a Christian, I wanted to follow my heart and show a symbol of my faith.

I was baptized as a baby, but as I grew up, I turned away from God.  But over the past few years, I have felt him continuing to guide my life, and now I am finally listening.  Because this is the first time in my life I have actually felt this way and decided to follow Him, taking the plunge became more and more important to me.

On the Friday before, there was a pre-baptism meeting and celebration, and I decided to invite Kristen's grandparents and aunt & uncle along.  After the logistical announcements, we got to share our stories of how we came to faith around our small table.  Afterwords, they announced that they would like a few people to share their story on video to possibly be part of the Sunday service, so I decided to give it a shot.  After a few takes, I told my story, and we prepared for Sunday.

As a special treat, Kristen's mom flew in from Idaho to share the special day with us.  We invited a handful of friends and Kristen's family came again, so it was fun to have a cheering section.  Our pastor gave the sermon, and then it was show time.  Between the two services, almost 200 people were baptized, so it was quite the production.  While we waited to start, they played the video of people sharing their stories, which was really inspiring.  And there I was, the grand finale of the video... the final thoughts before the baptisms began.  I looked back at the cheering section and all I saw were tears.

Kristen came with me on the stage to share the moment with me.  I was toward the end, so after over a hundred people took the plunge before me, it was my turn.  I got into the tub, shared a few words with the pastors doing the dunking, and held my breath.

It was a really cool experience, magnified by the fact that I was able to share it with some great people.

And the celebration?  Wings and football at BDubs!

Monday, October 27, 2014

#25 - Rock Climbing

I put together a little work rendezvous to cross off this list item - with the weather about to tank for the year, I needed to get this done ASAP.

The extent of my rock climbing experience came when I was in middle school/high school... on a wall... so since I moved to Colorado, I've wanted to take advantage of an amazing opportunity that surrounds us, and give rock climbing a shot.

After work, we got to spend a couple hours hitting the rocks at Taylor Canyon.  This experience solidified a few things:

-I have no upper body strength
-I can conquer my fear of heights when needed
-Rock climbing is pretty epic

It was a beautiful day, and not a bad way to spend a few hours on a Friday.  Thanks to Renee, Geoff, and Tricia for being so easily talked into taking the trip!

Celebrating victory!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

#26 - Ride in a Hot Air Balloon

To celebrate 3 years with my beautiful Kristen, I decided to surprise her with something a little crazy, yet something we'd remember forever.  Despite my fear of heights, I've always wanted to go on a hot air balloon ride, and this weekend, it happened!

We decided to do a weekend getaway to Moab, Utah for our anniversary, and I figured this was the perfect place to cross this off.  If anyone has been to Moab, you'll know it was a pretty easy decision - it is hands down one of the most beautiful places you'll ever find.

We woke up before sunrise to meet the crew and the rest of the people flying, signed our waivers, and hopped in the van to meet the pilot.  The excitement grew as we saw the balloon inflate and come to life.  This was really happening.  We hopped in the basket and up, up, and away we went.  Once we got a few hundred feet in the air, my anxiety picked up and I got super nervous.  But I took a few deep breaths, took in the scenery, and enjoyed the experience from a couple thousand feet in the air.

It was truly a once in a lifetime experience...

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

#29 - Complete Something Off The "Life List"

When I was 17 years old, I wrote the first version of my "Life List" - things that I wanted to accomplish.  Over the years, that list has evolved, and I have crossed a bunch of things off of it.  Many of the things from my 30 Before 30 list are taken directly from that list, but so many couldn't make the cut.  Usually, it was because they were too big or unrealistic to accomplish in this year, but I needed to make sure one of those things happened.

This past weekend it did!

Go to a football game at Lambeau

Yes, the home of my bitter rivals, but THE stadium in the NFL.  The MLB has Fenway and Wrigley.  The NBA has MSG.  And the NFL has Lambeau.  

Kristen and I planned on going at some point, but through a random conversation of happenstance with my friend Shannon who is originally from Green Bay, and she was one of the main reasons this dream became a reality.

I had tickets, and we were set to go.  But just for fun, I checked tickets just before the game to see if prices were going down.  They were.  Tickets in the front row were staring me in the face, cheap enough that it could actually be a consideration.  So I spent the next 12 hours talking myself into doing it.  The best part?  Kristen had no idea.

We spent the day in Green Bay taking it all in.  Wandering the tailgates, checking out the merch stands, wandering the town, taking photos with the statues, and seeing the Thursday Night Football stage come to life.  As discreetly as I possibly could, I picked up my new tickets and still had to sell my originals - so I told Kristen about an upgrade, but I kept our location a surprise.  I sold my tickets to someone and got a good chunk of money back, and we headed to the stadium.  

Once we decided to take our seats, we entered and went down the stairs.  And kept going.  And kept going.  Kristen thought since nobody was really checking tickets that we were just going to check out the field before the game.  I told her these were our seats.  Cue the confusion.  I showed her the tickets.  Cue the waterworks.  In that moment, it instantly became worth it!

The game was a nightmare.  Unless you're a Packers fan.  A completely one sided domination in favor of the home team, but that made the energy inside the stadium electric.  It was a truly incredible experience, and one that we will never forget.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

A Journey of 1,000 Miles

"A journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step" - Laozi

Over the weekend, I just surpassed the 1,000 mile mark since I started running at the end of 2010.  Time to reflect on this milestone...

The First Step

I was finishing up grad school in Florida, and I was fat.  I've always been a pretty good athlete, but that's been conflicted with a lifetime of weight struggles.  In grad school, I let myself go, and I knew it.  I reached a breaking point.  No more.

I went to the gym, and I stepped on the scale.  284.  The heaviest I have ever been.  I was so humiliated.  But I knew that there was no time for that - it was go time.  I knew it was going to be a long road, and just at the right moment, inspiration came in the form of a YouTube video.  This video.  I laced up my shoes, and I headed out for a run.  I made it a quarter mile.  I started sobbing.  This was one of the lowest moments of my life.  But it was only the beginning.  I kept going.  And that quarter mile has always been a reminder - and the start of my new journey.

The Last Step

I went out for a run on a chilly, wet, fall day in a prairie park in Illinois.  And it was beautiful.  My running hasn't been up to par recently, so I was going to be happy if I made it 3 miles.  I made it 6.5.  And it felt gooooddd!  A great way to surpass the milestone.

The In Between

This has been an unbelievable journey filled with tons of ups and downs.  At least 1 race every month since then.  54 races.  6 half marathons.  1 triathlon.  1 marathon.  Several states.  So many unbelievable memories.  I've met so many amazing people through being a part of the running community.  I've been able to strengthen relationships and get to know friends in a better way through running.  I have pushed my limits and discovered levels of strength within me I didn't know existed.  

The Future

I know at some point relatively soon there will be a shift.  I'm not built for long distances, so those will eventually come to an end.  The commitment it takes to run a race every month and continue that streak will become more challenging as I embark on other commitments that life offers.  Running for me will look different.  But no matter what, it will always be a part of me.  Why?  The reasons are simple.

I am a better person when I am running.
I am a better person because I am a runner.

Monday, August 18, 2014

#19 - Climb Combo 14ers

In Colorado there are 50+ peaks over 14,000 feet in elevation, and I've been fortunate enough to climb a couple of them.  So for my challenge, I wanted to do multiple in the same climb.  After some back and forth, we settled on the Democrat-Cameron-Lincoln-Bross loop.  Since Kristen and I conquered Mount Democrat last summer, we decided to finish the loop.

Mount Cameron

We started our climb at about 4:30AM, using the moon and a small flashlight as our guide.  We made our way up and up as the cold and wind blasted us.  Since we had done the start of this route before, we knew what to expect, so that made the climb more manageable.  When we reached the saddle between Democrat and Cameron, we basked in the fact that we could be guides for people climbing Democrat, and we got the rest of the climb up Cameron to ourselves.  Frost covered the trail as we hiked in the shadow of the mountain towering above us, but we trekked and trekked until we finally reached the summit at 14,238 ft.  Although Cameron is considered an "unofficial 14er," it is still the 17th tallest peak in the state.  Counts for me!  We snapped a quick picture and because of the cold, we wanted to move on quickly.  Onto the next!

On the way up

On top of Cameron

Mount Lincoln

headed along the ridge toward Mount Lincoln, which looked like the most daunting stretch of the entire trip.  One couple was coming down from the summit but aside from them, we still had this entire stretch to ourselves.  The route got a little frostier and a little sketchier.  The last couple hundred feet proved to be a little daunting, so Kristen was content to stop just short of the summit, still conquering all but the final hump of Lincoln.  I headed up the slippery rocks and found myself on the summit at 14,286 feet - the 8th tallest peak in the state.  Still unable to really enjoy it because of the piercing wind, I snapped a quick photo and headed right back down to catch back up with Kristen.  Onto the next!

Lincoln from Cameron

Lincoln selfie

Mount Bross

This is when we finally started having a GREAT time!  The sun was finally coming up - the wind was dying down, and the satisfaction of climbing the two previous mountains was hitting us.  This was also the easiest stretch of the entire climb.  We headed down the easy hike across the ridge and started our final ascent of the day.  Tired and worn out, we took a few last bursts of energy and found ourselves standing once again on top of the world - 14,172 feet - the 22nd tallest peak in CO.  Because the weather was finally getting nice, and we were on the final mountain, we definitely took our time and enjoyed this one!

Lincoln from route to Bross

From Bross - Democrat, Cameron & Lincoln (and Quandary in background)

The Descent

Now all that was left was the way down - we knew there would be tough stretches, but it would be a relatively easy trek down to the trailhead.


About halfway down we ran into a snag.  The route split and headed down a really rough trail.  About halfway down this chunk, we were in a little over our heads - scrambling, scooting on our butts, crab walking, and shuffling our way down a super steep part of the trail.  We made it down a few feet at a time, and we were getting closer to where it leveled off.  After probably about 30 people were with us on the trail, and after a long time of brutally trudging our way down, a man's voice said that the REAL trail was about 50 yards away from us - we were on a rain gully that tons of people had taken that made it appear to be the trail.  So after all that ordeal, we had to scramble our way across a whole lot of rocks to make our way back to the trail.

Ugh...  Awful...

Once we regained our composure, we headed down, and the rest of it was uneventful.  That section sucked the life out of us, but we both tried to keep enjoying the rest of the journey.  Down and down we continued, until we finally reached grass... then flat ground... then finally the trailhead, thankful to be done.

Aside from our little unanticipated struggle, it was a great day, a great hike, and it was a great accomplishment for the two of us!

14ers 3, 4, and 5 in the books!

On the summit of Bross

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

#7 - Dive Into a Swimming Pool

Last night we had a pool party during RA training.  I had no intentions for this to be the night... until I opened my big mouth.

Rewind to when I was a kid - I took swimming lessons in the neighborhood, and I always passed with flying colors.  Except for the diving.  I always failed.  I never learned right.  It always hurt.  It always scared me.  Year after year, I would try to dive... but I got more and more scared.

That eventually turned into a phobia.  As I grew older, the fear grew with it.  Instead of trying and failing like I did as a kid, I just stopped trying.  I'd think about it and start getting nervous.  I just couldn't do it.  The last time I dove into a pool was when my age was a single digit.

Back to last night.  Sitting in the hot tub, watching some people dive, I started asking a few people about how to dive.  What do I do with my hands?  What do I do with my head?  How do I not bellyflop?  I started getting nervous.  Not tonight.

Let's get it over with.  I kept thinking I could do it.  I could cross it off tonight.  They suggested I start on the edge of the pool, then work my way to the blocks, then work my way to the diving board.  I crept to the edge of the pool and stared at the water.  I couldn't breathe.  No way I was diving off the side of the pool.  It was going to be one shot.  All or nothing.  So I decided it was time.  And I was going straight for the diving board.

I crept to the edge and looked down.  I can do this.  That's when everyone in the pool took notice and started chanting my name.  My heart started pounding.  "YOU'RE NOT HELPING!" I yelled.  I took a few deep breaths.  Now or never.  After a couple of seconds of strategizing... I went for it.

I rose from the water and I couldn't stop shaking... but I did it!

Monday, August 4, 2014

#8 - Hike from Gothic to Aspen

Gothic, CO to Aspen, CO is a 4.5 hour drive around the most rugged mountain range in Colorado.  Or it's a 10 mile hike straight through. 

My friend Adam hopped the bus from Denver to Gunnison to meet me on Thursday night.  We prepped, got to bed early, and braced ourselves for the 4:30AM alarms, hoping that the thunderstorms that swept in late at night would be gone by dawn.  In the darkness, we woke up, grabbed our breakfast, and headed to Crested Butte to catch our 6AM shuttle.  As the sun came up, the clouds in the sky were daunting.  With no chance of lightning til early afternoon, we wanted to press on, but we were getting a little nervous, because it was looking like it could be a wet day.  We decided to at least make it to the trailhead and then decided if we wanted to go for it or turn back.  On the way, we picked up 6 women in their 50s-60s, so naturally our macho-ness made us feel way better about the hike if they were doing it.  After a brief moose sighting and our shuttle driver taking the dirt mountain road like a NASCAR driver, we arrived at the trailhead and were greeted by a slight drizzle, and started our hike - knowing that if it stayed like this, we'd be ok!

After about a half mile we were awed by the amazing wildflowers that carpeted the valley - yellow, purple, blue, red... flowers as far as the eye could see in every direction.  That awe quickly melted as the rain picked up and we spent the next few miles getting soaked.  Luckily, Adam had a couple of trash bags so he saved my camera!  The trail wound through the valley at an easy incline (with a couple steeper spots), so we were making great time... and fine by me because between the rain, the muddy trail, and the bushes that our bodies would swipe across, we were completely drenched.  We knew that if it stayed like this, we'd be miserable...

About 3 miles into the hike the rain started clearing a little.  Then it stopped.  Then we were passed by a 5 foot tall girl speed walking her way up the mountain.  As we looked behind us, the clouds started a lift and patches of blue started coming out, just in time for us to hike over West Maroon Pass.  About 3.5 miles in, the easyish incline turned into a steep series of switchbacks as we ran into a dead end of mountain range, knowing we'd have to go up and over.  Breathing became heavy and pace became slow, but before we knew it, we made it to the top!  The valley behind us looked amazing in the sun, and we basked in the victory of the trail we had conquered.  The valley ahead of us looked majestic, and we reveled in the feeling that we would soon be descending into it.  But for now, we stopped for a few minutes to snap a few pictures and to grab a quick snack.  4 hard miles done - 6 easy miles to go.  For the first time in the hike, we really got to take in the surroundings, so we took advantage of it!

We started down into the valley and that's when we started seeing a lot more people who were coming from Aspen.  We chatted with a few on the way down, about the hike, about the obstacles that would be on the way, and some interactions were way funnier than others.  We crossed a few streams trying to tiptoe across the rocks, we crept through the muddy muck that the trail turned into in many sections, and just kept hiking down.  The view of the 13ers and 14ers around us was breathtaking, and now that the weather was finally nice, we started to dry off and made everything way more enjoyable.  After a few miles of steady downhill, we found ourselves at the base of the Maroon Bells and right alongside Pyramid Peak - and only the home stretch remained.

As we headed down to the first of two lakes that we'd hit, clouds started rolling over the Bells behind us, and along with the gray of the sky ahead of us, we knew that we weren't quite done with rain for the day.  As we headed around the lake, the clouds kept slowly rolling in and the rain started up again, and our ideas of being able to take our time and relax at the end of the hike were quickly washed away.  The last couple miles were in a steady rain, but then, we saw the final lake - which meant the end of our hike.

Adam and I rounded the final lake and peered back at the Maroon Bells - some of the most beautiful mountains and the most photographed spot in the state of Colorado.  Yet here's what we could see, and after my two previous unsuccessful attempts to see the Bells, I was now 0-for-3.  The Bells really do hate me.  We hopped a couple of buses and made it to our hotel in Snowmass, took advantage of finally being dry and warm, and waited for his wife Kristin and my Kristen to join us later that night.

The next morning, we all reluctantly agreed to wake up early on a Saturday and make one more attempt to see the Bells, which was now my 4th attempt.  But this time, my luck changed, and we were treated to a breathtaking morning at the Maroon Bells. 

We enjoyed a wonderful partial weekend of Glenwood Springs, mini golf, some great meals, and lots of conversation, love, and laughter.

And another incredible experience is in the books!  Thank you Adam for taking the journey with me!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

#15 - Go Camping in the Mountains

The destination for this list item was the beautiful Lake City, Colorado.  We made our first trip there a couple weeks ago, and instantly we were amazed by the beauty of the area.

Kristen and I headed up Saturday morning to find a campsite - I was a little worried since all sites in the area are on a first come basis, but we lucked out and got a great site at Deer Lakes, an area known for having moose.  In between rain clouds, we set up our tent and gathered up a little wood for later.

We headed back out to town to spend the afternoon, when we had our first amazing encounter - a momma and baby moose!

In town, we waited out some of the passing clouds by visiting a few of the shops, driving to see some of the mountains, and our favorite - mini golf!  We decided dinner HAD to be at the Packer Saloon - a place named after Alferd Packer, "America's favorite cannibal," an explorer known for his cannibalistic endeavors during the late 1800s.  As the quote at the memorial marking the site of the attacks says, "You're a man eatin' son of a... There was seven Democrats in Hinsdale County and you ate five of them." Lake City has for whatever reason embraced the fame that came along with these events, and the decor was fitting for my favorite Packer fan.  You can't make this stuff up...

We headed back to our camp site and decided to check and see if any moose were out at the ponds nearby... and let's just say we got quite the show!

After a couple of hours of watching our new friends, we made our way back to our tent.  Because of rain throughout the day, all of the wood in the area was soaked.  Luckily we picked up a bundle of firewood and the people staying in the site next to us had some lighter fluid, because I had to cheat to get a good fire going.  Once I had the fire going, the obvious next step was making s'mores.  But again, because of the rain, all sticks in the area were soaked, so I had to get creative.  I MacGyver'ed a couple of roasting sticks out of a golf club and a coat hanger, and we made some delicious desserts while enjoying the calm crackling of the fire.

After a night of mediocre sleep, we woke up to a cold, wet morning.  We gathered up our things and made one last look down to see if our moose friends were still around.  Sure enough...

All in all, I guess you could say this was a successful camping trip!