This map illustrates all the places I’ve flown to in 2011, for a total of 29,806 miles (as a bird flies). The circumference of the Earth at the equator is 24,901 miles. I more than flew around the earth, but never left the United States! This was a big year for travel and adventure – mostly excellent adventure and happy weddings mixed in with a lot of work and some loss – I spent time in new cities, made new friends and got back in touch with my roots. 2011 was quite a year. Here are some of my most memorable parts:
I spent roughly three weeks in San Francisco working with the frog studio. My favorite hotel was the Triton right next to Chinatown. It was just over a mile from the office so I walked almost every day, stopping at Blue Bottle Coffee on the way for a cappuccino and oatmeal. Watching the fog roll around the skyscrapers was always got my mind moving in the morning. One weekend I ventured over to Golden Gate Park and wandered through the Japanese Tea Garden – the oldest example of a traditional Zen garden in the US – and had green tea and a peaceful afternoon. I also saw an exhibition of post impressionist art (my favorite) at the de Young museum, walked through the botanical gardens and hiked up a volcano-like hill in the middle of a moat. I met up with friends Meghan and Chris in Oakland and had a blast hanging out there, eating great pizza, drinking California beer and walking their bulldog. I discovered, somewhat to my surprise, that San Francisco probably isn’t the next stop on my list of places to live. I’d thought for several years that I’d like to move there eventually, but I found the people in SF to be abrasive, always in a rush, and a little self-important. Oakland, however, felt more relaxed and at 5°+ warmer, more fun to explore on foot. There are little pockets of wonderful restaurants and parks and neighborhoods that I’d love to explore more.
Four weeks in Seattle and I made some good friends with the frogs, ate amazing food, saw an excellent exhibition of Asian art at the Seattle Art Museum, drank probably more than is healthy or wise, and learned more about video games than I ever really wanted to know. For a few weeks I stayed next to the Puget sound and watched the sun rise over the ferries and the Olympics and ran along the waterfront in 25°. Then I stayed at the Ace and had a wonderful time feeling fancy. I fell back in love with black clothes and layers and leather. I felt homesick when I realized I was missing autumn in Austin and when it rained 10 days in a row. As I was there I realized that it was pointless to be afraid of leaving the life at home because wherever you go, there you are, and there your life is, and everything will be there when you get back, and it’s too much work to hold on so tight to such fluid things. And I realized I probably won’t live in Seattle.
This is totally a topic unto itself but 2011 wouldn’t have been nearly as interesting if I hadn’t started climbing. For me rock climbing isn’t just a physical activity – it’s also deeply rooted in problem solving, philosophy, mindfulness practice and creativity. When I’m climbing I can’t think about anything else, and when I try to, my climbing suffers. I’m learning to listen to my muscles and plan ahead. I’m also learning that there’s always more that one solution to a climbing problem and that discovering and choosing those applicable pathways is an adventure in itself, and a test of skill and knowledge. I’ve met several wonderful people and the adventures we’ve had so far make me smile big and dream about all the adventures I can’t wait to have with the rocks and the ropes.
Last January I took a class called Citizen Gardener provided by the Sustainable Food Center of Austin. I learned all about building raised beds, choosing soil and local plants, building rain barrels, square foot gardening and growing in texas conditions. This inspired me to fill my own raised beds with all sorts of herbs and plants and try drip irrigation for the first time, and after hours of hard work and sweat and quite a bit of money in seeds and compost, I had a fairly good harvest. I’ve discovered over the last year that my garden either has too much clay in the soil or doesn’t receive enough direct sunlight due to our oak trees, or both. This next spring will be interesting as I try out some new planting methods and add more organics to the soil.
My mom, Ryan and I went to Moab, Utah for 2 days to celebrate my birthday! We rented inflatable kayaks and cruised down the Colorado river, past Fisher Towers and around countless red rocks. We camped at one of my favorite grounds on the Colorado, in between the huge redrock canyon walls of Arches National Park and Slickrock and broke in my new tent (a Big Agnes, the first tent I’ve ever purchased, after using my dad’s 30 year old Moss tent since I was a teenager). We bouldered at Big Bend for the first time – Ryan’s first experience climbing sandstone and I think he’s hooked. The rocks are so soft they practically grip your fingers in return for good hand placement. We spent a day exploring Arches and the Fins and I felt like I was home in the wilderness.
My favorite parts of Moab are watching the setting sun light up the canyon walls till they glow like molten metal, the brief afternoon monsoon rains that drop a few huge raindrops then light up the sky with low and golden clouds, and the smell of the river and the rocks and the pinyon pines in the heat of the scorching noon sun.
First, my dad married a wonderful woman while we stood among the hops vines and the sun set on the Bookcliffs, and I got a brother and a sister. My family has expanded many fold and I’m excited and grateful because they’re all wonderful people with many interests and brilliant minds and lots of love to go around. Then my friends Paul and Emily tied their knot on the family farm in Wisconsin, amongst a big barn and forests and freshly chopped wood and huge gourds in the garden and I got to spend good quality time with my favorite people and new friends alike. And Jeremy and Bailey said their vows by a tiny lake and tiny cabins in the vast rolling hills of North Carolina where we danced and sang and partied our hearts out and I felt full of love for everyone. This was surely a summer of celebration and love, and enjoyed being a part of all of it.
Over the course of three days Ryan and I backpacked through the three tallest peaks in the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina. We put our heavy packs on and began up a treacherous hill marked only for experts. We discovered the last spring in the area and filled our bottles with chilled water from the rocks. We summited Grandfather Mountain, McRae Peak and Calloway Peak, Ryan’s first peak ascents. I planned our route and timing in detail, with topo maps and calibrated compasses. The freedom and adventure I felt throughout this trek was unparalleled. From the craggy boulder at the top of a rickety 100ft ladder I finally saw why they’re called the Blue Ridges, even on a perfect sunny day.
Two days of skiing and snowboarding in Telluride and Powderhorn (the latter after 12 inches of powder!) was the best skiing I’ve ever had, in my memory. When he wasn’t slashing powder and beating us all down the slope my dad was busy teaching and encouraging the kids new skiing techniques, just like he did when I was little and getting into slalom racing (“keep your shoulders facing the fall line and rotate your skis from the hip…”always a good reminder.). Ryan and I zoomed down the hills, keeping neck and neck and trying the jumps along the way. I felt fluid and solid, fast and controlled, and totally thrilled with my fortune in life to be in the mountains on such perfect days.
I’m thankful for all the travel I’ve done this year. I find that getting out of my comfort zone by going to a city by myself often acts like a reset button. I’m able to focus more concertedly on my work and what I need. I write more, read more and introspect more. But it’s also tiring. Moving from hotel to hotel and eating many meals out and alone gets boring pretty quickly. I spent a lot of time exploring in 2011 and I feel both content to be home and hibernate the rest of the winter and ready for bigger and more moving adventures in the new year.
So here’s to 2012 and discovering what you love (and doing more of it), listening to your self (and learning from it), and making a wonderful life (and being present in it)!