by dylan

Cyberhobo as Weekday Warrior

October 25, 2008 in Weekday Warrior

My outdoor values were being heavily suppressed when I lost my fashionable dot com software engineering job in 2001. I bravely set out on my own as a freelance developer. This allowed me more and more outdoor time as my contracts shriveled up along with the tech sector economy. I didn’t think of it as such, but this was my first attempt at being a Weekday Warrior. I took long mountain bike rides into the Denver front range in between short bouts of intensive coding. When I could no longer afford rent, I created a web site at www.cyberhobo.net, likening myself to a depression-era traveling worker whose profession happened to be software engineering.

It was not yet my time. I managed some traveling, but was mostly supported by my family along the way. Eventually I found myself lurking at my dad’s house, in limbo, unable to find work. When a job as a government contractor came my way, I returned to life as a Weekend Warrior, and not for the last time. My outdoor values continued to grow, though, and I never stopped updating my cyberhobo web site.

I’m now four months into another attempt at establishing myself as a Weekday Warrior. I’m freelancing again, and have a growing base of good clients. I choose my hours, and spend a respectable of amount of high-quality time outdoors. But I’m not yet making a living. My wife is currently a Weekend Warrior. As fortune would have it, she’s found the best full time job of her life here in Santa Fe, New Mexico. We find ourselves in a mixed marriage of sorts, uncertain which way to proceed. We are certain of the importance of the outdoors in our life, and our intention to keep pursuing it.

So even though I’m not yet a self-reliant Weekday Warrior, I have taken note of a couple of tactics that helped me get this far.

  • Establish a network through free labor. Independent, part-time workers all need some kind of network of clients or customers. I attempted a few entrepreneurial projects, and the one that ended up bringing me clients is an open-source product that I developed myself and make freely available to anyone. This is an old pattern of “paying your dues”, but I really had to see it work to believe it.
  • Be persistent. Some of my projects failed. Many ideas came and went. I had to keep my day job longer than I hoped. I got tired, and often felt I was making no progress. I still feel that way sometimes. But whenever I feel the least bit inspired, I plug away at whatever project seems to hold the most promise at the time.
  • Seek renewal outdoors. I can’t quite force it to happen, but sometimes I return from the outdoors completely refreshed and ready for anything. The more I go out, the more reliable a source of energy and vitality it is.

These are some of my lessons learned so far. My greatest liability is probably my tendency toward social isolation. The more people I can meet that share my values, the more opportunities I’ll have. I hope to meet Weekday Warriors more successful than I, and get them to share their secrets with us here…

by dylan

Color Time

September 29, 2008 in Inspiration

I can feel the colors out there changing. Each day is different. It’s impossible to catch more than we miss, but it’s fun to try!

by dylan

The Indoor / Outdoor Duality

September 29, 2008 in Realization

Most of us cannot live an entirely outdoor life, even if we like to dream about it. If our passion is strong, perhaps we venture outdoors for months at a time, but in my case at least, this is preceded by many more months of indoor preparation. There is a dynamic interplay between our indoor lives and our outdoor lives. The things we do indoors tend to enhance our outdoor experience in some ways, and degrade it in others. The opposite is also true. I believe this duality lies at the heart of outdoorism. It certainly provides new insights into my life struggles at every turn.

The duality can be seen at almost any level. It’s fun to come up with widely varying examples. Most have both a constructive side and destructive side. Let’s explore a few.

A single outing. The outing is planned indoors. Perhaps maps are used from an organization that supports outdoor conservation. During the trip, an intriguing encounter inspires an idea for another outing. On the destructive side, perhaps a lunch is packed indoors purchased from companies that create pollution. While hiking, a prick from a cactus spine creates a puncture wound that gets infected.

A lifestyle. A person makes her living indoors, but gets her creative energy from outdoor pursuits. Her trade requires the use of non-renewable natural resources, and she sometimes sacrifices good career opportunities to be outdoors more.

A society. Nature provides the resources for an industrial society, which in turn provides citizenry with technology that enables outdoor exploration without the struggles for food and shelter that our ancestors contended with. Meanwhile the industry destroys some of the natural resources that power it, and citizens who have come to value the diversity of nature begin to undermine the industry.

A brain. This perspective is illuminated by the book My Stroke of Insight, a narrative by brain scientist Jill Bolte Taylor. She experienced full right-brain consciousness when the left side of her brain was disabled by a stroke. This was a state of bliss – she was completely absorbed in the present, thrilled with life, at one with the universe. I’ve had hints of this state in the outdoors. Blissful presence was not sufficient for survival, though. Without any capacity to speak or understand language, see distinct objects, perceive her body as a solid separate from other solids, or track the passage of time, Jill couldn’t live in our common world. She had to redevelop her left-brain skills to live, even though she had grown to dislike the left brain’s tendency to dominate thought, worry needlessly, fabricate stories, and sow discontent. These are things I do more when I’m indoors … often in association with making a living.

The common patterns in these different perspectives are often described nicely by the yin and yang of Eastern philsophy, the theory of the unity of opposites. One of the laws of yin and yang is that they are usually out of balance, dominance shifting from one side to the other. Outdoorism is my attempt to compensate for the dominance of the Indoors by emphasizing the Outdoors in my life.

by dylan

The Outdoor Grail

August 25, 2008 in Realization

Until I learned what I truly value, my life was essentially dedicated to the values of others. It was in the outdoors that I discovered the values I feel certain are my own.

We talk about our values all the time, treating them as a given. That’s appropriate, because most of the time I think they are given to us like a pair of Emperor’s Trousers. The real reason that I never pointed out the Emperor’s New Clothes was that I had them on myself, and wasn’t about to point out the fact that I was naked.

Of course I resented being dressed up in this bogus clothing. My first step toward discovery of my own clothes was to rebelliously fling off the clothing that had been foisted on me. In public, for real. Once I was discovered nude outside a formal fraternity dance at the liberal arts college I attended. Festivities before the dance had involved a heated plexiglass dunk tank, the kind where you throw a ball at the target to plunge the clown sitting over the water. It was left outside the hall, and when the gowned and tuxedoed couples emerged after the dance they discovered me having a nice soak, my clothes in a pile on the sidewalk. The next day a beefy frat boy approached me in the dining hall, taking off his glasses. I prepared to have my lights knocked out, but the gentleman instead made a public statement declaring me a “moral deviant”. That’s when I knew I had successfully shed the values that weren’t mine to begin with, but I still hadn’t found any clothes of my own to wear. And the next morning, I got dressed in the same old hand-me-downs again before going out.

The truth is, discovering your own values is like unlocking the Secret of Happiness, deciphering the Meaning of Life, or Finding Yourself. Anyone who claims to have the answer ready for you is probably selling some brand of royal fashions. In my case, no clothes fit me until I went on a journey to find them. A few journeys, actually, all outdoors.

So even though I can’t tell you where you’ll find your perfect pajamas, I did get some insights into the reasons why the outdoors worked for me. I suspect these things may apply to the journeys of others as well.

The primary benefit of an extended outdoor journey is that it changes one’s basis of survival. The set of circumstances that provided me with food, shelter, and security changed drastically when I went backpacking or rock climbing. I think this change of perspective was important in that it allowed me to examine my prior circumstances from afar, without having my immediate survival at stake. This provided a clarity of vision that I haven’t found in other endeavors. It also made me cognizant of the fact that there are ways to survive other than those I know. This is incredibly encouraging.

Going a little deeper, I think immersion in the outdoors is beneficial because ultimately, our survival always depends on the natural systems we experience there. My attempts at school and work seemed almost designed to make me forget that the building blocks of my body and everything around it were at some point grown or dug from the earth. Somehow we must relate to the land to survive, but my cultural situation had taught me to relate to organizations, corporations, and various other constructions instead. It didn’t sink in that these entities must be conducting my relationship with the land for me until they were removed from the picture. Sleeping and walking on the earth for a long period of time helped to restore my sense of connection with it, and this in turn helped me to examine those organizations, corporations, and constructions more objectively. When I found things of value from this perspective, those values stuck with me instead of shifting and fluctuating like the Emperor’s clothes.

These are ways the outdoors helped me to find my values. They are part of the reason that one of those values is the outdoors, but that isn’t really my intended point. I think the outdoors can help people to discover their values, even if the outdoors itself doesn’t end up ranking high on the list. It helped me see the relationships and ideas that are most valuable to me in my indoor life, and I believe it can do the same for others. Just go on your own outdoor search for the Holy Grail. You may find you already have it, but it takes a step outdoors to see it in the light.

by dylan

Land Manager Mike Dechter

August 13, 2008 in Land Manager

If I had to choose someone to take care of the lands I love to explore, I’d choose someone like Mike Dechter. He does a number of jobs for the Santa Fe National Forest, but found time to respond to an inquiry I made and give me an interview. Mike expresses how the outdoors inspires him in his work, how others can get started along a similar path, and how we as users of national forests can get more out them.

by dylan

Wildflower Revelations

August 11, 2008 in Inspiration

It’s easy to visit the outdoors, see all the grand sights that await you there, and not realize that the places we visit are changing. Mountains especially seem stoic, immovable, and almost changeless. We take our pictures and make our memories in an instant, and take home an impression of a place during only that instant. I love going outdoors this time of year, to mountains and deserts especially, because the wildflowers growing there are so effective at shattering this illusion. They express their impermanence in their fragility, throwing all their energy into a paper-thin bloom that couldn’t possibly survive a cold night. Try to count the different kinds, and there always seems to be another variety not yet seen. Pass a dull shrub in the morning, and on the return trip in the afternoon it has exploded with blossoms, while its neighbors have closed up. All of this activity happens on a time scale we can witness, which makes it a sort of language the outdoors can use to speak to us. I believe the flowers express in their diverse dance the stories of other changes happening in the places we visit that are less perceptible to us. Changes that take place over days, weeks, years, and millenia are all underway during our visit, and all reflect the patterns shown to us by the flowers in some way. There’s always something new to learn from them, so I’m always inspired to get outdoors this time of year to see the wildflowers, and listen to them as well!

by dylan

Tom Hickey

August 3, 2008 in Retiree

It’s easy to underestimate Tom Hickey if you don’t get into a conversation with him. A retired tax accountant who lives in Santa Fe, I met him atop Desolation Peak above the Santa Fe Ski Basin on an afternoon hike. His stiff-kneed walk gave me the impression of an overambitious senior citizen. He was also on his way to Lake Peak, so I followed him towards the ridge, and was surprised when he clambered right along the spine of the rock catwalk rather than the easier, lower route. We chatted enough for me to realize he was intending to do a longer, better hike than I was. To my very good fortune he invited me to come along, and let me interview him. As you’ll hear, there’s far more to Tom Hickey than meets the eye.

by dylan

Volunteer Backcountry Bridge Builders

July 23, 2008 in Inspiration, Trail Builder

I was climbing at the popular Las Conchas trailhead in Santa Fe National Forest when my curiosity was piqued by two 45-foot beams on a truck near the highway. When I saw what they were for, I had to document the way these huge beams were being moved into the backcountry:

The bridge builders were from Reineke Construction, spending their weekend doing more of what they love, building better trails. Mark Reineke was kind enough to answer some of my questions about their work.

What do you think the benefits of your volunteer work will be?

As avid mountain bikers and owners of a small business, we have very tangible connections to the benefits of our work –- great trails to use. On the less tangible side, we want to enhance each person’s outdoor recreation experience through increased access via sustainable, well-designed and constructed, safe trail systems and trail access points. Volunteer work gives us a chance to give back to land owners (in this case, the U.S. Forest Service, who manages these public lands on behalf of all taxpayers) and helps protect and maintain the trails we enjoy using. We believe that volunteering encourages a spirit of “good will” and shows a commitment by mountain bikers to give back, thus, hopefully demonstrating that we are good stewards of these precious resources.

What other motivations do you have to volunteer your time & effort?

First and foremost, it is a lot of fun to see the physical improvements take place and to hear from other trail users how much they enjoy the fruits of our labor. In addition, our company’s vision is to create and continuously improve a self-sustaining, small business, focused on high quality services provided through cooperative, partnering relationships with its clients. Working both as small business owners and as volunteers, we show that we are serious about these cooperative, partnering principles.

What do you recommend to others who are inspired by you to volunteer?

Try it, you’ll like it!” In fact, you might get hooked. Call your local forest service office, open space office, or city/county land owner’s office and ask to speak to their volunteer coordinator about upcoming projects. Also, we encourage folks to contact IMBA (http://www.imba.com/) to get involved with a local mountain biking group – many have trail maintenance groups.

Who else can we thank for the vastly improved bridges?

We want to provide credits to several key folks for the bridge building projects we have done in the Jemez District of the U.S. Forest Service. First, Phyllis Martinez of the USFS is the visionary and the person who made all this possible. Without her, these projects never would have happened. Secondly, Joe Hancock and his team of horses, Jake and Chester, made it possible to move the 45-foot long beams and tons of concrete to the construction sites without adversely impacting the natural resources along the East Fork of the Jemez River (a wild and scenic river). Lastly, Reineke Construction, a member of the Professional Trail Builders Association, offers its thanks to the many volunteers who helped build 7 (soon to be &8;) bridges to make this trail accessible to more of the using public.

by dylan

Drawing Lifemaps

July 17, 2008 in Investigation

Outdoorists value the outdoors highly, so we naturally pursue an outdoor life. What are the options? As I meet and talk to outdoorists, I want to map those options out for others. To take a first step in that direction, I created a new Lifemaps page to contain my maps, and sketched out the first for the Weekend Warrior, which is the path I have chosen for much of my life. I look forward to seeing how they evolve, and incorporating any comments from outdoorists.

by dylan

Treat it like a dog

July 3, 2008 in Realization

My first dog taught me something that I hope to apply now to my outdoor life. I’d like to treat the outdoors as a whole the way I learned to treat my first dog.

I dropped out of college after my first semester, hoping to snowboard more. It was really my first attempt at an outdoor life, and not a bad one. Gracious employers allowed me to keep my part time job at the University of Wyoming while I slacked off of school. That gave me a little time, and very little money.

When spring break approached I found myself with no lift ticket money, and not eager to compete with my more responsible peers in the lift lines anyway. I didn’t know Sarah well, but when she argued that mountain biking in Utah was way cheaper than snowboarding, and she would drive, I agreed to go with her for a week. I still had some accounting difficulties, so I moved my belongings from my basement apartment into my van and reapportioned my rent money to mountain biking in Moab.

We started the party in Sarah’s truck about 10 miles out of town. At 30 miles we hit a snowbank, rolled, and totaled her truck. Later that day I found myself sitting in my van with a cold wind blowing outside, facing my first night without heat. I made two decisions while I shivered. First, I would go back to school in the fall and major in something impressive like physics. Second, I would go to the pound and get a dog big enough to warm up the bed in the back of the van.

The dog I chose weighed about a hundred pounds. His former name was Rasta. They thought he might be a Great Dane / Yellow Lab mix. He looked as lonely as I felt. I rechristened him Schrödinger after the famous physicist and loaded him in my van, his sinewy legs shaking with fear and uncertainty. We drove into the hills, and he relaxed. When I ran with him on his leash a little ways, he bounded with glee and licked my face. When I let him off, he ran in joyous circles around me. I took him on a mountain bike ride, and he ran full steam ahead of me. In horror I watched him speed toward a cattle guard with no hint of restraint. He seemed to feel the world had become a perfect place for him, with a new companion and complete freedom. I thought the cattle gaurd would bring his happiness to an abrupt end, but somehow he curled up into a ball and rolled when he hit it. He lay on the ground a moment, then rose, then started running back to me as if to warn me of the danger. This time he cleared the gaurd in one inspired leap.

Dinger was like that every time we went outside together. His enthusiasm was infectious. Of course my renewed academic ambitions didn’t always allow for time outdoors with him, and my own enthusiasm for life waned during these periods as well. Dinger eventually died of cancer in my Dad’s care during a backpacking trip in the Rocky Mountains while I was going to school in Chicago. Reflecting on his death, I reached this conclusion: to provide a good life for your dog is to provide a good life for yourself.

I had absorbed a common belief in our culture that caring for something or someone else is always a personal sacrifice. My personal (Schrö)Dinger’s Law is the disproof of that belief: taking care of something or someone you value can be better than trying to just take care of yourself. When the pursuit of my own perceived interests at the time didn’t nourish me, the pursuit of Dinger’s did. My company in the outdoors never failed to make him happy. Why did it take so long to realize that it did the same for me?

As an outdoorist, I’d like to apply Dinger’s Law even more broadly. I suspect that if I act to take better care of the outdoors, my life will improve as a result. I have come to value the outdoors highly, but still I’ve been mostly an outdoor consumer, concerned with what I can get out of it. It may be folly to think that I can give anything back to Nature, but I want to see what happens if I try. Perhaps Dinger’s Law will be a founding principle of Outdoorism.

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