Rice cooker in my faceI’m not trying to shame anyone or anyplace so the restaurant name is changed (obviously?) and so is its tagline.

Simple intentions: slurp some noodles, then cross the street to the late-ish open coffee shop and write about week two of #vanlife. But the circumstances behind the photo above left me spinning.

In planning my night I looked for and found the aforementioned one-two combo, in a neighborhood near where I decided I’d live for the weekend. Jonesing for ramen – not sure I or anyone should call the vegetarian version the same name, in my limited vegetarianism it seems more like jacked-up miso – in a Google search, BlankBlank Ramen came up first (tagline: “Ramen with ❤️️”) and was highly rated by several hundred visitors. “iPad ordering” didn’t necessarily appeal to me but “highly customizable” did. I wanted a greens-filled super spicy bowl of toothsome noodles.

I got there and there were people waiting around outside. Went in to put my name on the list and was directed back outside to the bank of mounted iPads where I placed my order “Hippie Ramen,” paid, and received a receipt with a number. Fine fine, I’m open to new user experiences, especially when the stakes are as low as a bowl of soup. Took my number and waited, got called early for an odd seat at the counter, though I’m not sure getting seated early necessarily translated to my order being prepared sooner. Just noting that fact, I wasn’t in a rush and as a former longtime service industry professional I’m always entertained in restaurants. And seated as I was – looking down the cooking line – I was front row center to a restaurant version of the Keystone Kops.

Given my vantage point it was more like I was backstage, and it was hard to be there. Directly in front of me was wok/fried rice station and the first guy stationed there was interested in action. Of the female variety. It was 7:30 on a Friday night but my man didn’t seem all that busy. He moved deliberately, opening the reach-in, grabbing a six-pan,

Six pan

Six pan

putting it on the counter, scoping the scene. Eyes following the couple being led through the narrow space between the ramen counter seats and the wall. Not following the couple though, if you know what I mean.

I was a bartender and I get it, seeing what’s going on is part of the job, sometimes it’s one of the perquisites, and yes, of course men check out women. If you observe people at all you know that women also tend to check out women. But the way this guy did it was a little much for me, he seemed borderline obsessed. (Maybe I check out women the same way –  you spot it you got it, right?)

Ramen Chef?

Ramen Chef?

Anyway, Mr. Deliberate would pull out an ingredient, scope the scene, portion the ingredient into his wok, repeat, repeat. Scoop the fried rice into a small bowl, pull out garnishes in no particular hurry, scope the scene, scope the scene, scope the scene. While holding the completely finished dish in his hand he engaged in a full minute conversation with one of the other cooks. I hate that shit so much, finished food just hanging out in someone’s hand like it’s a fucking prop. Finally passes his food off, turns his attention back to his wok, then with a paper towel flicks some straggling rice grains out of his wok onto the small wok table, wipes them deliberately into a small pile, and then deliberately onto the floor.

Turns out that the guy he was chatting up was his replacement, there was a shift change happening behind the line right at the beginning of the busiest part of the night. New guy comes in and begins his intense prep work for the night.


Commander’s Palace

In the mid-nineties and I worked in the kitchen at Commander’s Palace in New Orleans for a spell. The line cooks started their prep at 1pm even though they weren’t allowed to clock in until 1:30. They had so much to do and they cared so much, they were working at a restaurant that was over 100 years old and was still relevant, a successful stint at which would not only give them a lifelong foundation in classic French cooking, but would also open doors anywhere they would ever want to work. These guys totally crushed it, arriving during lunch service and finding any two foot square spot they could fit a cutting board so they could slice mushrooms so fast their knives were invisible.

Twenty years later I was watching the fried rice station closing “chef” slice open two bags of Sysco frozen corn and dump them into the wok. Sysco = ❤️️.

He and my first guy took (deliberate) turns breaking up the giant mound of frozen-together kernels, grabbing them with (gloved) hands, pouring water on them, hacking at them with a ladle. Even though I hadn’t eaten yet I probably this moment as a cue that it was time to leave. I’ve walked out of movies before; same thing, right?

One more anecdote before I absolve these guys.

Deliberate guy left, the line clears out to a manageable number (but not before one guy carefully handed a stack of six or eight stacked empty bowls to another guy who wasn’t really paying attention because he was chatting with yet another guy, and who fumbled the stack and dropped and broke half of them). Order ticket came in, he puts on top of his rice cooker three steamed buns with the BlankBlank logo dyed into the top, then pulled out ingredients one by one and sloppily assembled an order of steamed pork buns. At one point he scooped a pile of pulled pork and dropped the measuring cup-scoop onto the rice cooker table. Though he saved the utensil, he lost the pork, and he pushed the unseen-to-me mess aside with his foot. Finished the buns, called over the bar to a server and put the plated pork buns one-by-one on the counter in front of the unoccupied seats next to me, unoccupied because the two diners had just left. Their dishes hadn’t been cleared yet, which meant that our friend was placing this finished food among dirty dishes.

The mess he made on top of the rice cooker stayed there at least until I left; it might still be there as you read this.

Rice cooker infrontame

My guy is down below cleaning something up, after which he’ll take two latex gloves from the box in front of me, then blow into them one at a time to make them easier to put on

My “ramen” arrived, I asked for hot sauce and it came right away, and the food was fine. The real ramen was probably good too, I’m not a ramen expert but I’m a competent cook. If you simmer enough pork bones and add okay ingredients, you’ll get okay ramen.

Not their fault

Unfortunately my discomfort and discontent was focused on these cooks because they were right in front of me. They’re just guys who needed a job and found one, or maybe they’re even passionate cooks or chefs in a bad situation, which is really where the problem lies – the situation. Organizations are top-down. If they have leaders who care about food and cleanliness they don’t have Sysco in a wok and slop on a rice cooker. We live in a world where clever marketing can easily trump quality and I got suckered. Waiting patrons don’t tell the whole story; neither do online ratings. My bad for not trusting my instincts when I got there.


The Right Stuff

Bringing to the big screen the Yeager drawl and understatement that became the style of every subsequent pilot: “I’m not sure but I think we might just have ourselves a little situation here”

Mothers’ Day, 2006 (or thereabouts). Three-star restaurant, New York City. Mom, Aunt Camille and Uncle George eating dinner at seats 1, 2, and 3 of the bar I was tending. Restaurant door opens, I look up and into the crowded bar area walks Sam Shepard. Our eyes lock and I welcome him with a nod and a hello, which is probably one more word than either Chuck Yeager or The Farmer would have used in the same situation. One more word, as it turns out, than Sam Shepard, who smiled and nodded back before finding the maître d’.

My mom, not knowing him, witnessed the exchange. “You know him?”

I tempered my sarcasm due to the day. “Um, yeah.” But I hadn’t seen him in person until then, or been given the chance to unobtrusively say hello to the lead of movies that were favorites at different times in my life. It pays to scope the scene.

Since we’re off on a tangent anyway…

Fun Wired oral history of the making of The Right Stuff

Michael Lewis on how Tom Wolfe became Tom Wolfe



First morning. Systems not quite in place yet.


Awkward timing – my apartment lease ended this week and my work contract finishes in three weeks, after which I’m cruising around California for a bit before heading back to Boulder CO. Housing for three weeks, what to do? Three days ago I moved from the apartment into my 1994 Toyota Previa minivan. I love it.

To clarify, I love both the minivan – and have since I bought it in June for a cool $1100 (less than either of my bikes) – and I love hashtag vanlife. Let’s be real – it’s only been three days. But the sense of freedom it’s given me is hard for me to come to terms with, it’s irrational. Maybe it’s because I’m no longer commuting. Anywhere. Last night I went to a show that was cancelled last minute and…no big deal, home was across the street. Happened to be a fairly quiet street so I spent the night. #nocommute

When I first moved to LA five months ago I thought I might live in the Previa but I let math and fear stop me.

The math was based on the amount I would spend on food compared to having a kitchen to prepare food in. Sure I’d save x amount on rent, but the extra amount I would spend on daily prepared food would eat up enough of the savings that I thought it was worth it to have a bedroom and bathroom. Because after food prep, having a shower was my main concern.

Which brings us back to day three of #vanlife. I haven’t showered since moving in and I haven’t prepared any food yet. I’m not worried about the food part because after I bought the van I cruised around Colorado for a couple weeks. At the time I was a recent convert to a whole-food plant-based diet and the food I cut up and tossed together was beyond satisfying. I still eat that way – whole food, plant-based, tossed together veggies – but with access to a kitchen I was doing exotic things such as cooking rice and sauteeing greens.

And then there’s the oatmeal.

Before switching to wfpb I was more-or-less paleo. One of the joys of eating in my current manner has been the reintroduction of whole grains (Paleo anathema) to my diet. I still don’t eat much bread – it’s more of an occasional treat because I have unscientific gut-based suspicions about gluten, but if I find myself near a killer bakery I’ll buy some whole grain bread and see what’s up. But I freaking love oatmeal. (And yes I know oats have gluten. Whoaaaaa, just looked it up, oats are gluten free! Who knew?). Every weekday morning I love it, the most mindful thing I do all day is open my Tupperware (Rubbermaid) container of oatmeal (I love it cold as well as hot) and look at it so gratefully, it’s full of so much goodness and love and then I eat it, a spoonful at a time. And even though I’m alone I don’t even look at my phone while eating it, that’s how much I love it.

So I had fear about being able to have oatmeal every morning. And here I am on day three having had my last portion of my superfood-packed oatmeal yesterday, which is fine because I usually mix things up on weekends. I’m fortunate to have a great friend in the lovely Giuliana, and when she found out I was moving into my van she texted, “No!!” and “This makes me sad.” She really was and she offered me her place as a roof over my head should I so desire one. I don’t foresee so desiring – the van is insanely cozy, warm, and comfortable due to a pretty spiff inflatable mattress which doesn’t allow me anywhere near the van floor – but a shower and a once-a-week kitchen are handy to have, and she and I do enjoy food and cooking. I’m on my way right now to clean up and cook a week’s worth of oatmeal, which is how I was making it in my apartment.

And that’s the first three days, gotta go. In #vanlife, as with the rest of life, we’ll see what happens.

Proud new owner. (Photo credit: mom)

In June, proud new owner. (Photo credit: mom)

Open Letter to Mom, Part Two

(This was written in November 2015)

Hello again!

I was going to wait a little longer to finish up but we go into five days of silence tomorrow morning, and since I’m sure you’ve read about the first half of our day over and over and over, you’re probably waiting with bated breath to hear about the second half of…

A day in the life of a moon course student
at Las Pirámedes del Ka

Here we go! As you may recall, we were last in metaphysics class. We get out around noon, and I’m hungry.


Dining room and kitchen

Dining room and kitchen (door on the right)

We have a break after metaphysics. Our kitchen is communal, shared by 24 people, so it can be a nightmare to cook in there’s an opportunity for spiritual growth that I’m not all that interested in pursuing.

Because of this I’ve restarted a habit called intermittent fasting where I don’t eat in the morning. It feels great. After the first two days I didn’t even think about it; when I eat breakfast I find that I get hungry in a couple hours anyway, no matter how much I eat.  So it’s just easier right now to forego breakfast.


Our kitchen is vegetarian only and for the month, by choice, so are all of us

Our kitchen is vegetarian only and for the month, by choice, so are we

By noon I’m varying degrees of hungry. Last week we had an optional breathing class at 1pm, which presented a feeding challenge. Breathing class or meditation on a full stomach is kind of a drag (which is another reason I don’t want to eat in the morning after yoga, since we meditate at 10:30), so around noon for a week I ate a snack of either an avocado or papaya. Avocados are Q2 each – two quetzales, which is about 15 cents – and papayas are Q12 (less than two dollars).
Avocado snack. Minimal clean up - key when dealing with a communal kitchen

Avocado snack. Minimal clean up – key when dealing with a communal kitchen

Even though the food in Guatemala isn’t exactly destination cuisine – I came here for this retreat, not for the food – it’s pretty sweet to eat an avocado without thinking twice about how much it costs. Sliced in half, sea salt, pool of olive oil in the cavity, sprinkle of chile powder. Stylin’, right dog?

At the end of last week we gained access to fresh local yogurt, cheese, and milk. The cheese is like feta and it comes wrapped in a banana leaf, smells a tiny bit funky, and is delicious. (There are those who aren’t the biggest fans, it’s a gamy cheese for sure.)

Fresh queso

Fresh queso

The yogurt is tangy and screams freshness. Yogurt and papaya and banana with a few raisins, almonds, and coconut is my go-to lunch. Easy to make, easy to clean, and it sits well in my stomach. Also, I’ve been eating vegetarian since I got here to the center – the communal kitchen is veggie only – and the yogurt adds some protein.


Lunch. This bowl is from a set I bought with lids (not shown), keeping in line with the family’s storage obsession


Breathing therapy, 1pm

Picture: 75 degrees Fahrenheit, partly cloudy (after the as-per-usual cloudless morning). A ragtag group of 20 sitting cross-legged in a garden. Everyone collectively taking a HUGE nasal-only inhale, as big as they can, bellies and chests expanding, shoulders scrunching up at the tippy top of the breath as each person reaches capacity, then forcefully – noisily! – expelling carbon dioxide out their mouths, heads jolting slightly towards the ground as if furiously trying to blow out a fire directly in front of their crossed ankles.

Repeat immediately two more times.

These three exaggerated movements were “cleansing breaths,” and they came before a choreographed series of breathing exercises that were slightly less dramatic and way more intense. Historically, they evolved as a way to move energy through the body, including negative energy that has been locked in at a cellular level for much of our lives.

At the end of my two month trip I might consider this course the highlight.

The gist is that by using certain specific patterns of breathing we can heal our bodies, that all sorts of maladies can’t survive in oxygen rich environments. Along with tapping into our subconscious using a mental approach – setting intentions, writing down behaviors which no longer serve us, and journaling about our entire lives – for about an hour a day for five days we increased the amount of oxygen in every cell of our body. We did this by actively engaging in this involuntary yet controllable action that most of us do without thinking for 99.9 percent of our lives. We healed ourselves – and each other – by breathing.

We did this in Las Pirámedes lush garden because all the plants and trees make the area rich in oxygen (“prana” – life force).

The garden

The garden

The breathing practice itself was rich, but there’s no way it would have touched all of us as profoundly if it hadn’t been for our teacher, Jenika. Jenika is a grounded magical healer who is exceptionally gifted at everything we’ve seen her do: she plays the harmonium for chanting sessions; once a week she instructs us in yoga (one classmate, hand to heart, said to me, “How do you thank someone for the best yoga class you’ve ever taken?”); she leads meditation sessions; and she helped us heal ourselves through breathing.

Jenika, Luli, and two niñas

This photo was in last week’s as well but it’s so happy here it is again: Jenika, Luli, and two niñas

I think the key is that Jenika has internalized these different healing practices to such a degree that – as with Chaty talking about traveling to other dimensions – when she’s instructing there’s no hesitation, not even the remotest doubt in her mind that by breathing this way for this long then that way for that long, then journaling about these years of our lives – there’s no doubt that by following this ancient practice, healing will inevitably take place. And so it did.

Over course of this class many of my classmates were on a roller coaster of moods and feelings and came out the other side feeling jubilant; I was simply in an elevated great mood for about six days straight – the word that kept coming to mind was buoyant. In my journaling I made a significant discovery; I’m sure there will be work to do around it at some point. And some seeds were planted – in the form of intentions about how I want to show up in the world – that I already feel starting to push up.

Absolutely amazing. Really.

 3pm (or noon). Breaktime.

Once the five days of the breath course was over we returned to something I realized I really missed – a glorious stretch of afternoon free time. I love free time. I’ve never identified with people who say they get bored sitting around – there’s always something to read or write or do.

Cafe Cristalinas in San Pedro

Cafe Cristalinas in San Pedro

Being free at noon means that my main meal of the day can be after we get out of our midday class and I won’t be overfull during 5pm meditation. And after that meal, the world is my oyster. I can read (I’m on my second book from the rustic but overflowing library a few feet from my cabin), write long letters to my mom (whom I miss desperately), take a boat ride to the slightly larger town across the lake, San Pedro, that has the best coffee I’ve had in a long time (as well as the best wifi around), or just hang out at the Pyramids with new friends and drink cacao, the heart-opening beverage of choice here in San Marcos and at the Pyramids. Five hours is enough time to do several of those things, and after my few hectic weeks in Boulder wrapping things up, I love it.

5pm. Meditation and thensome

Shoe zone outside the temple

Shoe zone outside the temple

I’ve been jotting down notes on my computer every night and this is what I have for our second day:

“Meditation 5pm with Chaty. 30 min. Then lying down doing breathing exercises. So powerful. Had a very clear image many times of my inner temple. Speeding / flying over water, dissolving into white light. Mind blowing Om session. So so so incredible.”

Group meditation at five is my favorite part of the day. We gather in the temple and first we practice in silence. After 30 minutes there’s a guided part that varies each day. We usually switch from cross-legged to lying down, which is personally much needed because one of my legs is always asleep. After we switch positions our instructor, usually Chaty, directs us.

On our second day – the one in my notes above – our instructions were to breathe in for a seven count (counting silently in our head), hold for a three count, then out for seven. Close your eyes and try it.

Come on, really. Do it.

After a few minutes we were told to change the count to nine in, hold for three, nine out. So we were still counting at the same pace but we were inhaling and exhaling slower. Once again, try it yourself.

This is all taking place in silence (except for Chaty’s instruction every few minutes). Peaceful. Neighbors’ breath.

Then the count was changed to 11 in, hold for three, 11 out. After a few more minutes 13, three, 13. Slowwwww, gentle, protracted breathing. I didn’t know it at the time but this breathing exercise is something we would revisit often over the next weeks.

During this exercise we were told to picture our inner temple. This is where we might find God when the time is right. As we were breathing I had a very clear image of my temple and it wasn’t serene and garden-like. I had a vision of flying across water – I didn’t see myself flying, it was just the point of view I had of the water, zooming over it – and it would occasionally fade into white, blown out light. Then I would see the water again, then the light. Sometimes an unidentified, nondescript woman would be in the light assuring me that it was okay to be there. It was cinematic, beautiful, and moving.

We began chanting “Om” afterwards. Not sure if you’ve ever heard it chanted, it’s not a quick “Om.” It’s more like “AAAaaaauuuuuummmmmmmmmmm.” When a group of twenty do it together there’s a strong, palpable vibration in the temple. Chaty prompted us for the first few Oms, then, without being told to do so, as a group we ran with it. We made the temple reverberate for about ten minutes. It was magical.

Since that session I’ve tried using that imagery again – the water, the light – and I can’t quite get there. It was only in the past few days that I realized something important: I can’t simply conjure it up because I didn’t simply conjure it up. Even though I was aware of being in the temple and breathing, I was also on the verge of something – somewhere – else. That’s why my recorded impression was that it was “so so so incredible.” (And why I was so so so articulate?)

For a few minutes I was slightly closer to something else.

Another example.

Since this is my favorite time of our day I’ll throw in one more example from a couple days later. No explanation, I’m just going to cut and paste it from my notes from that night. I wrote them quickly, then edited them soon after once I got more info from classmates, so in my writing sometimes I pose a question that I answer.

“Meditation w Chaty 5pm. 1/2 hour during which leg was painfully asleep. Then we lied down and she led us through a guided visualization. We were to picture a desert. What did it look like? Was there an end to it, or did it have no end? Were there cacti? Were we alone or with a person or people? Did we come to an oasis and if so, what did it look like? We came to a box and opened it, what was in the box for me? We came to a die (one dice) – throw it, what was the number? There was a storm, what was it like?

After the visualizing as we were still lying eyes closed Chaty explained the symbolism of what we visualized. “Read between lines.”

The desert for me was like in Lawrence of Arabia – expansive, with no end (which means no self-imposed mental limitations). No cacti (which represent obstacles). I was alone. I was wearing my Maui Jims, my Hawaii Forest and Trail cap, and my TNF Overhaul 40 backpack. Self-sufficient.

My oasis was modest – one or two palm trees, nice amount of water. Not huge by any means. That’s our spiritual life.

The box had a ring in it. That’s my mission in life. What is that? Personal finance? To make money? To get married? Personal finance is the first thing that came to mind…

The number I threw was originally a two and a three, before Chati told us that it was one die. She said in her accent that we came to dice (“very strange in the desert.”). So I had already thrown them in my head; then she said it was one die, and what number did we see on the face. It resolved to a five for me. I can’t remember what that means. Three was a strong family unit. Five is….spiritual (gigantism?). One: unity; two: duality (partnership); three: trinity (family); four: stability (earth, air, water, fire); five: spirituality (?); six: balance.

The storm. I have seen this storm forever thanks to Bruce and The Promised Land. “Gonna be a dark cloud rising from the desert floor, packed my bags and I’m headed straight for the storm. Gonna be a twister that blows everything down that ain’t got the faith to stand its ground. Blow away the lies that tear us apart, blow away the dreams that break our heart, blow away the lies that leave us nothin but lost and brokenhearted.”

So I’ve seen this storm many times before starting when I was 21 or 22, a senior at BC. Wind. Rain? Not sure. Wind signifies mental life (air.). Sand, physical (earth). Rain, spiritual (water). Lightning, emotional (fire).

Have to check on what the storm means, can’t remember right this moment. Ah, how we handle adversity.”

I loved this exercise, maybe because two key parts were so clear for me – I’ve seen Lawrence of Arabia three or four times and, as I noted, I’ve lived with that Bruce song for a long time. I think I used that exact part in a college essay once.

I’m really enjoying the subconscious aspects – the visualizing immediately and then hearing what the imagery might mean for us. I still have no idea about the ring in the box, in the week since the exercise it still doesn’t really gibe with anything. But it’s fun to have lurking around, unresolved…

End of day

After this session it’s a little after six and that’s it for structured time. Most people eat at this point, either making food at the center or out. If I’m hungry I might have an avocado or more, or make myself a cacao. Or I’ll tag along out and about, there are many restaurants where you can eat for Q40 or 50 (six or eight dollars). Or I’ll go to my cabin and read and write for a few hours. Whatever. I love the free time. Love it so much, am so grateful.

Whatever I do, I’m in my room at nine latest. Type up some notes. Read. Sleep. Dream. Maybe someday lucidly. Or not – who knows? I’m not worried about it.


Does that give you a better idea of what I’m doing here? Trying to figure it all out, so to speak. Or at least get some direction for what’s next. How am I making the earth a better place? What is my mission? Such good questions.
Thank you for your support and your help in getting me to this point, I couldn’t have done it without you. And though you may be skeptical, thank you for accepting and being supportive of my choices in life. Love you and miss you!
Your son,

Open Letter to Mom, Part One

Las Pirámedes del Ka
(This was written in November 2015)
Dear Mom,

¡Hola de Las Pirámedes en Guatemala! (That means “Hello from the Pyramids in Guatemala!”) How are you doing? I hear it’s snowing, I’m sure it’s beautiful there. I miss you!

I’m writing because when we talk I feel like I hear in your voice a skepticism about what I’m up to right now. Like if I went to Rome and called you, you would say “How is it?” and I would say “I ate real carbonara!” and you would say “Ooooooo that sounds soooo goooood, have some for me! Love you honey, have so much fun!”

When I call you from here in Guatemala our conversation is more like, “Soooo…………….are you okay?”  “I’m great. It’s beautiful here.”  “Welllll….(sigh)……alright… you,” and you sort of sound like you might never see me again.

Maybe I can explain better in letter form. After an overview I’ll describe what a typical day looks like for me and maybe you’ll understand better what I’m up to.

Where are we?

The name of the retreat center where I’m staying is Las Pirámedes del Ka. (Quick Mom tip: If you right-click on that link you can choose to open it in a new tab so you can keep reading this and then you can look at that later.) The Pyramids of the Spirit. It’s a meditation center located on Lago de Atitlán, a lake large enough that you can take a half hour boat trip to go from one town to another.

The lake is in a large volcanic crater, over 1000 feet deep in parts, which is itself surrounded by three volcanos. If you’ve caught any of my photos on Facebook then you’ve seen Volcano San Pedro (which I’m hiking on Sunday; if anything happens to me, I’ll make sure someone will let you know). There are a handful of villages around the lake; the one we’re in is San Marcos la Laguna.

San Marcos la Laguna

San Marcos la Laguna

Three of the gazillion dogs here (there's on e in the shadows as well)

Two of the gazillion dogs here (and there’s one in the shadows as well)


Who are we?

“We” are the 24 students comprising this month’s “moon course,” a four week program that begins the day after the full moon and ends 28 days later on the full moon. That’s why I won’t be home for Thanksgiving – the full moon is the day before. Sorry. (As a small consolation, here’s the Brussels sprouts with peanut sauce recipe I made last year, which happens to be vegan friendly.)

We range in age from 21 to 43 (one other 43 year old besides me, in case you’re wondering) and we come from Australia, Canada, Columbia, Sweden, the UK, and the US. Some travelled here just for the course; the majority are incorporating the Pyramids into a longer (or much longer) period of travel. Sort of like at the Kitchen, there’s no one in the group that I don’t like – everyone is pretty awesome in their own way.

Why are the pyramids here?

Chaty, the woman who founded Las Pirámedes, came here from Guatemala City almost 30 years ago. She had a vision that she was supposed to open a spiritual center and she chose this location because of its three natural “pyramids” – the volcanos around the lake. Chaty is in her 60s (I think), physically slight, spry, and incredibly wry. She’s hilarious and she knows it. I’ve yet to see her wear anything but all white.

The grounds of the center is made up by three main areas which contain student residences, a garden, and a pyramid shaped temple. There are also a few houses for the half dozen people who make Las Pirámedes the amazing place that it is – Chaty’s two grown daughters, Pauly and Luly, and a few others.

Chaty has mentioned that San Marcos has grown with the pyramids. It seems that she was one of the first to feel the healing energy here and that in the 25 years since Las Pirámedes has opened, word has spread.

Most of the tourism in this little town is healing oriented. There’s a yoga center, at least two shamans, massage therapists, acupuncturists, and so on.  There’s a large community of English speaking residents from all over, a bunch of hotels, hostels, and restaurants, two cafes, and even a “health food store”:

Not quite Natural Grocers but nice to have

Not quite Natural Grocers


A day in the life of a moon course student
at Las Pirámedes del Ka

Now that you have an overview of where I am, let’s take a look at what I’m up to all day.

6am: Meditation

Try this meditation exercise. Here’s a timer (you don’t have to right-click, just click on it). Set it for 30 seconds, press start, and close your eyes and focus on your breath the whole time. You don’t have to breathe any special way, just think about your breathing and don’t think about anything else for 30 seconds. The timer will make a sound when it’s done.

Yes, really. Actually do it: close your eyes for 30 seconds right now and don’t think of anything.

Go ahead……..


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What do you think? Not that easy to think of nothing, right?

I realized as I was writing this that you may not know why I meditate, or, for that matter, what meditation is. Now that I think about it, I’m not sure I know what it is but I’ll take a stab at it.

As I see it, without looking it up online, meditation is the practice of helping the mind get still.  It’s called a “practice” because our minds don’t like to stop thinking, therefore we have to practice. My experience, and my impression from most people, even experienced ones, is that the majority of meditation is thinking thinking thinking (or as Chaty would say, takata-takata-takata).

We meditate as a group twice a day and Chaty recommended that we do a third session on our own. Back in Boulder, with a job, I barely managed 20 minutes a day. Since I’m privy to this insane luxury of time, I do this third session first thing in the morning, at 6am alone in my little cabin which I don’t share with anyone.

Mi casita (my little house)

Mi casita (my little house)

I had no idea what the housing was like so I definitely did not request a solo room and I’m sure there are some aspects of living with others that enhance the experience. Since I don’t have roommates, I don’t know. If I had them, I’d try to be as grateful for them as I am that I don’t have them. Which is very grateful. :)

So that’s what meditation is to me. Next question you may not have and which I’ll answer anyway: why bother meditating?

The ideal reason is that through this practice we – I – can come closer to the being or spirit that’s responsible for all this. God, Ka, Higher Power – whatever you want to call it. By getting closer to God maybe I can have more compassion for people who suffer.

The practical reason for my own practice is that since I started meditation five years ago, I notice it when I don’t. When I go a day or two without meditation I’m more sensitive and more irritable. Also, maybe I can get closer to knowing what I’m supposed to be doing while I’m here (here on Earth, not here in San Marcos). I already have some clues – be kind, serve others – but I’m hoping for a little more direction. On our first day after our first group meditation Chaty asked us to consider, “How are you making the Earth a better place?”

Great question, but I’m getting ahead of myself; it’s only 6:30am.

7am Yoga

When I dabble in yoga at home it’s sporadic, with different styles and different teachers. Here at the Pyramids, we practice together every morning, we have a different focus each week and the three instructors are all on the same page. Although I haven’t been able to go yet, this is why I love the idea of my friend Jenna’s “Retreat at Home,” a six day program she leads once a month in Boulder. It’s the same group every day – a community is formed, Jenna knows is familiar with each student’s ability, and consequently, their practices deepen.

We practice yoga in the temple, which is a large, pyramid shaped structure where we meet three times a day:

The Temple

The Temple

I love the way the temple is constructed. We take off our shoes, and then to enter we go down six or seven stairs, then there’s a passageway where we stash anything that doesn’r relate directly to what we’re doing, including water bottles, extra clothes and bags – the temple space is very minimal and nothing extraneous is brought inside – and then we go up six or seven stairs, entering the temple through its floor. When everyone’s inside trap doors are folded over the opening and the resultant space is clean, wooden, and has no clunky, energy-sucking doors. White mats with very short meditation stools are placed around the perimeter; as each person enters she or he finds a mat and sits cross-legged on the stool.

The class is led most often by Chaty’s daughter Luly, or either Jenika or Thomas, two spiritual beings who have lived and worked at the center for six and eight years.

Jenika, Luli, and two niñas

Jenika, Luly, and two niñas

For an hour to an hour and a half we stretch and breathe – or, more accurately, we breathe and stretch. The idea is that breath comes first, all else follows.

Our 24 person group is pretty evenly mixed women and men with most of the men being novices. I wish I could videotape a class for you, in one yoga position we’re sitting on the floor with our legs forward and we’re instructed to stretch to our toes. The men (maybe it’s just me) don’t look like we’re doing anything except stretching our arms forward, like a lazy child playing superman, while the women are doubled over flat, their arms extending way past their feet.

Here we are again: why yoga? And again, there are practical and ideal reasons.

Practically speaking, it’s exercise. And it’s mostly stretching, which I really need. All the mountain biking I do makes me feel tight, it shortens my muscles, especially in my hips; yoga does the opposite. I’ve always suspected that the exercise I’ll be doing consistently as I get older is yoga. It’s pretty much zero impact, and it’s related to something else important…

Which is that ideally, yoga enables us to meditate better. We focus on our breath, which is a key for meditation. We stretch parts of our body which enable us to have better posture – the straighter our backs can be while we meditate, the better. And sitting with legs crossed on those short stools for a half hour at a time is fairly excruciating because my hips are so tight and my lower body is generally inflexible. In just ten days I’ve noticed an improvement and I’m hungry for more. So I’ll stick with it even though it’s not fun for me at all. “Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly at first.”

And when we leave we all seem to feel pretty great, and it’s only 8 or 8:30. Ready for the day.

Coffee break


Shambala Cafe. That’s Jess and Alex on the right.

At this point I usually cruise out of yoga and get coffee at either Moon Fish or Shambala, two sweet little cafes. San Marcos has great coffee, and though neither is by any stretch of the imagination like Boxcar (that place we went for pastries once), they grind and brew to order and the beans are grown and roasted a couple miles away. I catch up on Blank Plate stuff, cruise around the internet, and write long letters to my mom because I miss her so much.


At 10:30 we’re back to the temple. First we meditate as a group for a half hour, then we have metaphysics class. Metaphysics is roughly translated as “the science of that which is beyond the physical.” A simple example would be let’s say you catch a cold. Is it possible that you caught the cold because you were stressed about work the past few weeks? A mental condition was responsible for the physical ailment.

The topics we’re covering right now are lucid dreaming and astral traveling, actions which are beyond the physical. A quick overview, as much for me as for you:

Lucid dreaming

Have you ever had a dream and while you were dreaming you realized that you were dreaming? For me it happens sometimes when I’m flying in my dream – I realize that I’m flying, and flying is such an unusual occurrence that my mind realizes that I’m in a dream. At that point I might stay in my dream for another second or two or five or 30, and then I’ll wake up. But during that part that I realize I’m dreaming I can sometimes control my flying. So that part where I’m in the dream and aware that I’m dreaming and controlling my dream – that’s lucid dreaming.

We cannot intentionally lucid dream but we can create situations and train ourselves so that while we’re dreaming we’ll be more likely to realize that we’re in a dream and then we’ll wake up within the dream. When that happens we might have the presence of mind within the dream, even though we’re dreaming to investigate different aspects of life, to gain insights that we can’t necessarily gain when we’re awake.

And also, it’s sort of fun when I’m awake in my dreams. Lucid dreaming hasn’t happened to me since I’ve been here, although my dreams have been noticeably more vivid, which is fun in it’s own way.

Astral traveling

me astral traveling

Me astral traveling, courtesy of my friend Rachael the Mermaid

Astral traveling is sort of like lucid dreaming, except that when we astral travel we’re awake. We’re in a meditation state and then we realize that we’re leaving our bodies and, as with lucid dreaming, we have a chance to investigate aspects of life that we can’t access when we’re awake.

And as with lucid dreaming, I haven’t experienced astral travel, although some of my classmates have.

Umm…does this stuff really happen?

I imagine you’re a little skeptical. I was definitely skeptical of these types of things before I got here; though I don’t (yet?) have any personal experience with them, I’m now a believer, probably because Chaty talks about them with utter matter-of-factness. It’s not even conviction; to her, it’s just something that happens. You can train for it, like running a marathon, except that you can’t choose to lucid dream or astral travel, you can just prepare yourself for the possibility.

You’re most likely still skeptical and I don’t blame you. Two more non-argumentative points about the topic. First is that in this amazing interview with Deepak Chopra, a guy who has written many New York Times bestsellers, he talks a lot about astral traveling, and, like Chaty, he is totally matter-of-fact about it. It’s just something that happens. He’s not trying to convince anyone, even though the interviewer is surprised and doesn’t seem to believe him, at least not right away.

Lastly, a question: Do you believe in anything that you can’t explain or that you don’t have personal experience with?  If so, isn’t it possible that there are other wacky things out there that we can’t explain?

That’s all for now

I’ll hold off here and finish up in the next couple days. I love you!

Your son,


People change: A proven strategy for saving money and traveling the world

La Laguna

My name is L.R. and I’m the founder of Blank Plate Boulder. In my 20s and 30s I lived paycheck to paycheck. I would have been bankrupt and homeless if it weren’t for my sister and mother. With their help and the reception of some sort of grace, I was able to turn things around and after a few years I had what might pass for a “normal” life. I waited tables, paid rent, bought a car.

I recently took off for some traveling and will be chronicling my walkabout here.

Feedback of any kind is welcome; comment below or email me: LR [at]

JLo, Steven Soderbergh, and an impressionable young mind

In a car trunk talking about Bonnie and Clyde

In a car trunk talking about Bonnie and Clyde

Spoiler alert. Sorry.

During the climax of the movie Out of Sight (for a time, one of my favorites), after having courted and consummated, FBI agent JLo foils a robbery by shooting George Clooney. I remember reading an interview with director Steven Soderbergh and he said that the motivation behind that unhappy ending was that in his experience people don’t change. In other words, once a criminal, always a criminal. Once a ______, always a ______.  For some reason I bought into Soderbergh’s philosophy; maybe I was resistant to changing my own self-destructive behaviors. But I’ve since realized…

People do change

We see it all around us. At the extreme there are hard core drug addicts and alcoholics who get clean and turn their lives around. Less extreme (and maybe more relatable) examples can be found at your local yoga studio or CrossFit gym. Talk to ten people and one or more of them will have had some sort of transformative life experience because of their new commitment to health and fitness. Or you can read heartfelt voluntary testimonials online in the comments sections of any article on Nerd Fitness or Mister Money Mustache.

It was because of Mister Money Mustache that I took a look at what gas cost me for a year of driving my sweet Subaru WRX wagon around the great state of Colorado. I took the numbers of miles I had driven, estimated gas cost (at the low end), and gas mileage (at the high end) for a conservative estimate. Turned out that I spent the equivalent of two weeks of take home pay to fuel my “sweet” ride.  Two weeks of working so I could drive around, and that amount didn’t include insurance or maintenance.

I made sure my bike was in good shape and convenient to use – fenders, rack, lights – and sold my car. I joined a carshare program, just in case. (Full disclosure: Since selling the car I found out that I’ve been blessed with people around me who are willing to sometimes loan me their vehicles. But if I needed to buy a car I’d be happy to do so, and it would get over 30 miles per gallon.) 

People’s interests change too; and Facebook is a bizarre thing

Sometime in the past few years I caught the travel bug through various lifestyle podcasts and blogs and I began imagining eating my way around Southeast Asia. Around the same time it was becoming clear to me that in my job as a restaurant server, my learning curve was too flat to continue for much longer. During this “what’s next” gestation period I came across a friend’s Facebook post. 

Even though it’s been around for over ten years, the constant stream of personal and general information on Facebook still strikes me as bizarre. Scroll scroll scroll pause; scroll pause scroll scroll scroll scroll scroll scroll scroll scroll….  What are we hoping to find? That dopamine, man – addictive.

Anyway, six or eight or ten months ago – I could check, which is another disconcerting aspect of FB – a friend of mine posted an article on her timeline (“timeline”–bizarre) featuring a retreat center in Guatemala. With only a little research (i.e., a few clicks) I realized it was the right thing at the right time and an itinerary evolved naturally: Work, head to Guatemala for a retreat – beginner travel, sort of – cruise around for a few weeks, check in at home, then head to SE Asia to eat.

So I find myself in San Marcos La Laguna, the lagoon being part of Lake Atitlán, Guatemala. It’s beautiful here, as you can see in the photo up top.

“Well…how did I get here?”[1.Talking Heads anyone? My friend Danbro has a theory that it’s impossible to go a day in Boulder without hearing the Talking Heads. If you’re reading this in Boulder, consider this your daily dose. Or keep it going with this rad 80s video. Click this arrow to go back to where you were reading >]

It’s too early to tell what I’ll receive from my time in San Marcos — our Moon Course group of 25 seekers is on the third of 28 days of yoga, metaphysics, and meditation.

What I do know is that getting to this point has been one of the most satisfying, instructive periods of my life.

Once I made the decision to travel extensively, warming up with this retreat, my universe shifted. One of my favorite quotes:[2.I first came across this in the epigraph to Charlie Trotter’s first cookbook. Turns out that he, like many others, misattributed it to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Click this arrow to go back to where you were reading >]

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back– Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth that ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.”

Another quote, this one from Peter Drucker:

The proven strategy: “What gets measured gets managed.”

The measuring part. I set a savings goal, worked backwards from my intended departure date, and determined how much I needed to save each week. I set up an automatic transfer every Friday from my checking account to my savings account. My income was variable but the percentage taken out was usually half of my take home pay.  That set amount came out of my checking account automatically every Friday, no matter what — even if my paycheck was less than the savings amount (which is what happens when you’re a day laborer and you take time off). 

An aphorism from the personal finance realm is, “Pay yourself first,” the idea being that your priority – putting money in savings, paying off your debt, whatever – deserves more than the leftovers of what you don’t spend. This probably isn’t rocket science for most people reading this; for me, once I saw that it worked, it was new, empowering behavior. Every week I would log into my bank and look at the numbers, and week by week the number in my savings account grew substantially. It seemed unreal.

The managing part. Knowing I had a goal and knowing how much money I had in my checking account–aka my spending account–changed the way I spent my money. In particular, eating out became a painful experience that I avoided unless I really wanted to socialize with someone.

Because of my life history I used to think that I could never do anything like this–put into place a plan to save money and actually do it. But three weeks before my target date I was impatient and I pulled the trigger, transferring the remaining amount I needed from checking to savings. In six months I had paid myself $10,000.


The savings period was also the planning period and for me that didn’t mean overplanning my trip. The retreat as the cornerstone was a start, and having a roommate, Eva, who is a world traveler, was all I needed to flesh things out. I have a three week post-retreat outline, subject to change, with a flight out of Oaxaca on December 15th, home for holidays with mom (because I’m missing Thanksgiving) and a New Year’s Eve pop-up (which is gonna be awesome. For real.).

So my pre-trip planning focused instead on gear. Drawing primarily from the blogs of Spartan Traveler and Tynan, I downloaded a spreadsheet from the former, added, subtracted, cross-referenced, and took advantage of my Amazon Prime account, receiving packages almost daily. This is what I ended up with:

Quintessential gear shot

Quintessential gear shot

That's all of it

That’s all of it

Though I know there’s room for improvement, I received the ultimate compliment from one experienced traveler: “You’re traveling light mate.”

Reality sets in (in a good way)

As with the money adding up in my bank account, the travel part seemed unreal as well. The type of thing that other people do, not me. Even after booking flights and reserving a spot at the retreat, the experience I was headed for was so unknown that I couldn’t imagine it, much less that it would happen to me.

And then…it was Wednesday, October 21st, and I was on a 1:30am redeye out of DIA; a week later, I’m typing these words in a small cabin in Guatemala.

It is possible to change your behavior, and to change your life. Cheers!



  1. Talking Heads anyone? My friend Danbro has a theory that it’s impossible to go a day in Boulder without hearing the Talking Heads. If you’re reading this in Boulder, consider this your daily dose. Or keep it going with this rad 80s video. Click this arrow to go back to where you were reading >
  2. I first came across this in the epigraph to Charlie Trotter’s first cookbook. Turns out that he, like many others, misattributed it to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Click this arrow to go back to where you were reading >

Banged Up: Greek Tragedy in Crested Butte

Who remembers what Achilles' downfall was? HInt: it wasn't his heel.

Who remembers what Achilles’ downfall was? HInt: it wasn’t his heel.

During a recent ride on the Carbon and Green Lake trails (where I had unfinished business of sorts from the year before) I clearly (so clearly!) remember having three distinct thoughts which would later prove ironic.

(I looked up ‘irony’ to make sure I was using it correctly and learned about dramatic irony, which is when the full significance of a character’s words or actions are clear to the audience or reader although unknown to the character. Not sure if anything out there knew if events would transpire as described below but if so it must have been a funny few hours.)


Thought number one: gratitude.

While pedalling up an easy incline leading to Ohio Pass I was thinking about the Breck 68, a race I was in three weeks before. During every prolonged climb of that race I experienced pain in my lower back, and the pain got worse as the race progressed until it was constantly screaming. It wasn’t bad enough for me to stop but it was extremely uncomfortable.

As I neared Ohio Pass it occured to me how lucky I am – that the pain I suffered during the Breck 68 was the worst pain I’ve encountered in years, and that I wasn’t experiencing anything even hinting at pain during the current climb. And that while at 42 I notice my body deteriorating, I’m still able to do most things pain-free. And, lastly, I thought about one of my best friends and how he’s experienced back pain since we were in high school.

I thought, “I am so lucky to not suffer severe pain.”


Thought number two: hmmm…

After descending from the Ohio Pass and being treated to gorgeous views of the Ohio Valley, I turned onto the Carbon Trail. Crossed some talus fields – expanses of ragged fist-sized rocks that do not make for the most pleasant riding – and began ascending. After a few miles the trail was unrideable – sometimes it was too deeply rutted, sometimes too steep – so I got off and pushed my bike onward and upward. I have grips on the end of my handlebars that extend forward. Here’s the left one:

Grip, or tree hook?

Grip, or tree hook / figurative heel spear?

The trail we (my bike and I) were slowly making our way up was overgrown in spots and every so often my handlebars would hook on some tree or bush and because of my fancy climbing grips I was forced to stop and unhook, as opposed to the trees just grazing past if I didn’t have the protrusive grips.

I wondered, “Might this at some point be more than a small annoyance?”


Thought number three: look at me! Look at me!

After an hour of pushing the bike we reached the summit of the trail. Excited both to be riding again and to be going downhill, off we went. There were a lot of loose rocks and the descent called for some skilled line-picking and I was doing a pretty good job, at a pretty good pace.

Pleased with myself it occured to me, “I am SO shredding.”


Tragedy, in the inevitable sense?

Flying down the trail at a speed that is one of the reasons people mountain bike, the fun stopped abruptly fewer than five seconds after that last thought as my left handlebar grabbed a tree. Thrown from my bike in a manner you can possibly imagine if you picture a left handlebar getting snagged, once I finally landed my right hip bore the brunt of the fall, slamming hard into the ground. I made an instinctive split second assessment of what just happened, then the pain began – or at least that’s when I noticed it. Once it began it was intense enough for me let loose a pretty loud cry, something like “AAARGGGH.”

And then another one, similar, right after that: “UNGHHHH.”

And then one more, slightly different: “FUCKING HUBRIS!”

Somehow even in that moment the correlation between my just-previous self-congratulatory thought and my then-current state on the ground was immediately obvious. It was definitely the worst pain I’ve felt in years and the first time I’ve eaten it like that in awhile (most of my spills are ridiculous slow motion affairs – too tentative going downhill or too unskilled going up). Although I couldn’t move my right leg, something told me that I was probably okay, relatively speaking. I pushed myself to sitting, repositioned my leg using my arms, and sat there waiting for pain to subside and movement to return (hopefully).

After a few minutes I found that though my hip and leg were not working as I’m accustomed, they were functional. My bike was fine, lying 10 feet behind me and apparently not suffering any pain at all. I walked it back a hundred yards so we could ride through the not-that-narrow opening between two trees where I had simply lost concentration.


Not-quite Odyssey home

The rest of the ride consisted of (too much) more hike-a-bike and some shreddable downhill (which I feel I shredded, hip pain and hubris notwithstanding – shredder’s gotta shred, right?), much of it through clearings full of the purple flowers that appear everywhere in Crested Butte. There was a hiking detour available to swim in Green Lake which I originally planned to do – I even brought a small towel – but by the time I reached the turnoff I was more concerned with getting home before dark, especially since I had taken my light out of my bag right before my ride, around 2:30. The Great Playwright didn’t end up incorporating that potentially juicy plot development and I got home without incident.

I saw zero other riders on the Carbon and Green Lake trails, most likely owing to the amount of walking involved. It was a ride worth doing once: there was a stellar view of Mount Crested Butte and the town itself; early on there was a plaque describing a stone wall visible way way up high on a ridge and its history as related to the South Park railway; I got up close to Whetstone Mountain…

Rising moon over Whetstone Mountain from the summit of the Carbon Trail

Rising moon over Whetstone Mountain from the summit of the Carbon Trail

…which I now see often from aways off and get to think, “I was there;” and the downhills on the Green Lake Trail were, as I mentioned, shreddable. But overall value was not enough to make a return trip, something I can’t say for other ride I’ve made in Crested Butte.

As far as riding goes, the next day I pedaled around a parking lot for a minute and determined I was in no shape to ride so I took the day off and limped around town. Did basic bike maintenance at the so-friendly Alpineer. Hung out at Camp 4 Coffee. Ate ice cream at Third Bowl (cinnamon cayenne honey, new all-time favorite flavor). Texted my acupuncturist in Boulder who recommended internal and external arnica. Discovered that in addition to the pain in my hip just about every muscle in both legs and both arms were sore, some sort of whole-body traumatic reaction.

And then the day after that I went for a bike ride and felt totally fine – great, even. Which brings me back to gratitude: the soreness I feel everywhere right now is a constant reminder to be grateful that I have a more-or-less fully-functioning body. And I am.



Safely home, sliver of Whetstone and the moon up high

Safely home hours later, sliver of lower Whetstone and the moon up high

Fear Itself

Storm Clouds above Breckenridge

18 July 2013: The view I was treated to due to a wrong turn. Slopes of Breckenridge in the distance.

In one of the circles I run in we talk a decent amount about fear, usually in regard to one of its manifestations. When I see an Instagram of my ex-girlfriend with another guy and get jealous, fear is the root of that jealousy – I’m not good enough. When someone at work acts differently than I think they should and I get resentful I can usually trace the root to some sort of fear – at its bizarre extreme maybe a fear that I’ll get fired and be homeless.

Two years ago – after being inculcated with this awareness of fear in my life for a year or two – I went to see a show in Denver. The band I was seeing featured Corey Glover, lead singer from the band Living Colour. The encore played that night was Cult of Personality and since “Vivid” was the second CD I ever owned I’m pretty familiar with the song. As the song approached its conclusion I had a flash of mental foreshadowing of the last line and as it played over the sound system I understood for the first time what FDR meant: The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. For real.

Last week I was debating between two places to ride my bike, both of them very familiar. I happened across a Strava update of a friend who had the day before ridden somewhere I had been before but only a few times and not for over a year. As soon as that ride became a possibility, my stomach knotted a tiny bit – fear of the unknown. Riding somewhere I didn’t know like the back of my hand meant I might get lost and need to stumble along for a bit. Not a big deal at all but enough to bring up a little bit of fear; I decided to go, had a fantastic ride and can’t wait to go back. And it was during that ride that the desire to write this blog post arose.

In January I entered a lottery for a mountain bike training program. The program called for a committment of Thursday nights and every other Saturday. My normal work schedule is Thursday through Sunday, nights. Should I enter the lottery? Would I be able to switch my schedule around enough to participate? If I succeeded with scheduling, what would my finances be like as a result?

YOLO dogg, so I entered the lottery and was one of the 20 lucky winners. After a few prelimimary meetings we began training in April. New people; fear. New places to ride; fear. Meeting somewhere different every workout; fear. Asking people for car rides; fear. These are not major fears; they are operating-slightly-outside-the-comfort-zone fears. Slight discomforts on a regular basis.

The larger discomforts came with larger unknowns. A month into the program we had our first ‘practice’ race – an actual race, the 18 Hours of Fruita. Drive across the state to set up camp with a bunch of people I barely know (my training program teammates and coaches) and begin a race at midnight (and in which I wouldn’t ride for the first time until a little after a very cold 1:30am, my first time mountain biking at night). But I showed up and it turned out to be a blast and I wondered who I would get to do it with me the next year.

The next large discomfort was another ‘practice’ race, the PV Cycle Derby. 44 miles of more-or-less non-stop riding. Aspects were less uncomfortable – by then I had formed some actual friendships, and this was now my second, not my first, race – and aspects were more uncomfortable. It was an unknown place and I had never ridden that far without plenty of breaks and chit-chat. But I showed up and finished fine (in four hours and 25 minutes).

Major discomfort: short track race. Not endurance. 20 minutes of all-out riding on a short course (which we did four laps of). This one really had me going, I was not looking forward to it at all. The idea seemed too adrenaline-fueled and unlike the pleasant races I had recently been exposed to -where you ask to pass or you pull to the side so someone can pass you – this one was billed as scrappier. I also didn’t want to get injured and jeopardize my chances of participating in the ‘real’ race, the one most of us were all training for. So maybe it was a self-fulfilling prophecy that adrenaline got the best of me and as I was trying to pass someone we both went over the handlebars. I was lucky – I scraped my elbow and though I didn’t know it until the next day, I suffered some minor rib cage area issues that are still with me two weeks later. Bill was less fortunate and needed to be helped off the course. He walked with assistance to a first aid tent and after a half hour he went to the hospital. I feel bad and need to periodically remind myself that it’s part of the sport.

That brings us to right now, Friday night July 11th, the eve of the race for which we’ve been training for 15 weeks, the Breck 68. Further than I’ve ever ridden in one go; altitudes I’m not used to. Despite the knot in my stomach I feel pretty good, trying to accept that however it is that I prepared, it’s all done now. Two weeks ago we rode half this course and my legs were heavy from the previous few weeks of training and I had half the sleep that I’ll get tonight (hopefully), and I finished it.

I had a leg massage two days ago and acupuncture yesterday. I’m in Breckenridge, my bike is in the foyer (chain lubed), my riding drinks are prepped, my hydration pack is full of water – all I have to do is wake up, sit quietly for a few moments, make some eggs, get dressed and ride. Thanks to the coaches and my teammates in this training program (and the care I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to give to myself) I’m in the best shape of my life.

I mentioned that I hang out with a group of people who talk about fear on occasion. We have an exercise that we do, a question that we ask ourselves: If I weren’t afraid right now, who would I be? Tomorrow I hope to ride as that unafraid person, aware of my fear and showing up despite it.

Foraging near Nederland

sean foraging

It’s gotta be here somewhere…

Woke up to my alarm yesterday at seven a.m., I was planning to get an early start to a long day of solo riding. Three minutes later I got a phone call from Sean.

“Dude, do you want to take the bus up to Ned and ride down? I thought we could catch the eight o’clock bus but I have a couple things I need to do and I need to download some GPS data. Meet me at the station for the 10:10?”

Even on  a cell phone minutes after waking, Sean’s enthusiasm was infectious. Of course I’d be on the 10:10, I’d just as soon go on an adventure as ride flowy manicured trails. Over the past year it’s become apparent to me that it’s fairly common for epic ride-seeking mountain bikers based in Boulder to take the bus to Nederland, a small town nestled 20 miles into the mountains and, more pertinently, at an elevation about 3000′ higher. This bus-powered elevation gain translates into a mountain bike ride with much more descending than climbing.

Aside from a ten mile road ride at the end of the day, I wouldn’t have necessarily known that we had early on gained a bunch of altitude. I’ve done the bus-shuttle twice and both times my friend/host/guide has chosen a route that begins with a substantial aerobic workout. Which is totally fine with me. From Nederland, after a few brief stops to chat with friends of Sean, we climbed up Forest Service Road 505, an ascent of 2000′ over eight miles.

From that high point (10,246′) Sean (along with Google Earth) was my leader. We stopped many, many times to ascertain whether we were near (or on) a trail which would take us along the contour lines of the mountains whose ridges gradually lead toward Boulder. As we made our way along infrequently traveled trails mushrooms were everywhere – we couldn’t not see them – and on one dirt road we passed several parked cars with plastic buckets scattered about.

mega shroom

mega shroom

This was not the most fun ride I’ve ever been on. But riding where a trail isn’t clearly marked, feeling our way along (“A lot of this is going to be Braille,” warned Sean early on), the thrill from engaging in the slightly illicit, and simply being on a bike for six hours — all this amounted to a hugely satisfying day.

Not that there was a lack of pure enjoyment, even moments of giddyness. At one point we were riding along a significant paved rode and Sean veered suddenly into the wide grass shoulder. A “No way,” escaped from me involuntarily. After not much searching we dropped over a heretofore unseen edge and left the well-traveled road behind, at least for a little while.


Vacation, Finally

It's nice to have friends, even if they're not around: tent, stove, and cooler from Ken & Eva, chairs from Jordan & Erin, sleeping pad from Danny, and sleeping bag from (different) Eva.

It’s nice to have friends, even if they’re not around: tent, stove, and cooler from Ken & Eva, camp chairs from Jordan & Erin, unpictured sleeping pad from Danny, and unpictured sleeping bag from a different Eva. Where’s Dan?

On Wednesday, the eighth day of a more-or-less solo mountain biking road trip, my friend Dan was to join me in Crested Butte. He said he was getting an early start and it’s a five or six hour trip, so I figured he’d roll into town around four or five that afternoon — that’s the way Dan’s early starts usually end up. We could then go for a late day shorter ride; this would give me a rest day of sorts and give him time to acclimate to the 8875′ altitude.

Because of this tentative ‘schedule’ I felt no need to rush when I woke up — for the first time during this vacation I didn’t set an alarm. (Why set an alarm, you may wonder. To get a ride in before the common afternoon mountain storms.) Went to bed at 10 the night before and got up at 7:30. Made my first-ever camping coffee and an egg breakfast. Put a camp chair next to the Slate River and enjoyed a chapter of a book.

I also sat for a few minutes and watched and listened to the river and petitioned silently for, among other things, the removal of fear of financial insecurity. The previous few days involved some coolant issues with my car and as an inexperienced car owner I have some fear around catastrophic engine failure, a fear that was exacerbated by the five hours between me and home.

So once it began drizzling in the late morning I left my beautiful campsite and headed to an auto shop that was recommended to me by Nichole at Townie books. The mechanic was busy but once I mentioned his referral he agreed to take a quick look. We discussed the previous days’ coolant happenings and he couldn’t find anything wrong. He gave me some simple (and also easy) recommendations and concluded with “Enjoy your time. Keep an eye on it. What’s the worst that can happen? It might cost some money — and I know nobody wants to spend money — but that’s it.”

My rides.

My rides.

Fears assuaged (and prayers answered?) I went to a coffee shop. Update from Dan — running behind (shocker), wouldn’t be in CB until nighttime. Outside it was raining hard, not even a remote chance of riding my bike at that moment so I started this blog and wrote my first blog post. Switched coffee shops after several hours for a change of scenery.

At 5:30 the sun came out and the weather was perfect, if your idea of perfect is 75 degrees and cloudless. I was on my bike by six.

Strand Hill

I chose a 20 mile loop from town, the statistics of which closely approximated Betasso, my Boulder two hour ‘backdoor ride’ (any suggestions of a phrase to describe a default ride?), and I figured that even with stumbling through the directions I would be back before dark. After a full day’s rest, relaxation, and productivity, I was feeling phenomenal.

For people who don't want to get their cars dirty?

Dirt road warning sign: for people who don’t want to get their cars dirty?


Some people drive to this trailhead, which is okay with them

Some people drive to this trailhead, which is okay for them

After some of the usual missteps and poking around I found the trail, rode some rolling singletrack, then came to this sign and couldn’t remember which way I was supposed to go:

Which way?

Which way?

As I was pulling my guidebook out of my Camelbak I noticed that someone already answered the question, crudely but definitively.

Not this way

Not this way


This way!

This way!

After a mile of fairly strenuous climbing the ridiculously smooth beautiful flowy aspen-lined singletrack began. This particular vacation day’s culmination is why I love mountain biking.

Are you kidding me?

Are you kidding me?

In that slightly blissed out state that for me comes from doing something I love and know that I’ve become proficient at, I finished the Strand Hill trail and was about to head back to town. Then I read this sentence in the guidebook:

“To get a bit more singletrack riding in after riding Strand from town, try riding the Upper Upper Loop trail….”

So much for getting back before dark.



A perfect vacation day.



He made it!

Dan made it! Not a care in the world.



Obligatory Riding

Dyke Trail

First riding day in Crested Butte. Fell asleep in my tent last night reading a guidebook and still had a hard time deciding on where to ride this morning — first world problem, embarrassment of riches, etc. Pored over the same book during breakfast, cross referencing with a website that’s extremely useful ( but the authors are a couple of CB shredders, which I’m definitely not. Finally decided on a ride called Dyke Pass which starts with a length of road ride out of town. Right before leaving my breakfast spot a line in the guidebook caught my attention:

“For an epic day, ride the Dyke Trail from town. Climb up to Kebler Pass from Horse Ranch Park after the Dyke Trail descent…Ride Carbon and Green Lake Trails, as described above….”

I have a problem: when a goal is presented in situations such as this, I feel compelled to complete it, no matter how offhand it was mentioned or whether it fits into what I want for my life at a given moment. I attended a conference where Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, presented her observations on four personality types — Upholders, Questioners, Rebels, and Obligers. Within her framework I’m  an Obliger, and though this goal-completing behavior doesn’t fit squarely in Rubin’s own definition of an Obliger, it makes sense to me. I felt obliged to finish the linked rides.

some people drive to this point

Some people drive 6.4 miles to this point, and they’re okay with that

So I rode the 6.4 miles out of Crested Butte on Kebler Pass Road to the turnoff for the approach to the Dyke Trail. The trail was teeming with wildflowers. Feeling so good, I was fantasizing about my casual response to the locals who were going to ask me where I rode today. “Um, Dyke Trail, then Carbon and Green Lake.”

narrow path through Aspens

Hard not to feel a little mystical riding through aspens; notice the narrow path

Then came the one mile of the Dyke Trail the guidebook describes like this:

“Begin a challenging set of climbs with very little break in between.”

Being completely impressed with myself during the first half of this ride, I knew these climbs existed and thought I rode them already, I had encountered a series of downs and ups that I found fun. “These aren’t that big a deal, I must be in much better shape than the author and the people she’s writing for.” Wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong. The climbs referred to were, in fact, brutal. And though I’m happy with how I performed — only once did I get stopped, at which point I was completely bent over gasping, acutely aware of how thin the air is at 10,500′ — my general worldview after these climbs was significantly different than before them.

Lunch from Teocalli Tamale

Stopped to eat lunch from Teocalli Tamale

as close a I got to the trail's eponymous volcanic rock formation

In the distance, the trail’s eponymous volcanic rock formation

A quick lunch and several miles of wildflower-filled, technical singletrack later and I was once again on Kebler Pass Road, the same road I rode out of town, except now I was on the other side of the pass. Although mountain passes are passes by definition because they’re lower and easier to traverse than the surrounding mountains, they’re also by definition the high point of whatever’s on either side of them, e.g. the road. So…four miles up Kebler Pass Road to the pass itself.

At the top I stopped. I could see where I left the road a few hours ago and I could also see Ohio Pass Road, the path I would take to the epic-(and legend-?) making Carbon Trail. I was tired and there were things I needed to take care of in town. I calculated mileage in my head and read trail directions. I stood there for a few minutes debating, then compulsively headed down Ohio Pass Road. I stopped again, debated again, completely agonized, and continued on, feeling obliged to do so. I shifted down as the road started climbing.

I love climbing. I mean, I really really love climbing. But I was not enjoying this easy climb at all. I realized that I wouldn’t enjoy any of the climbing; and though I would probably enjoy the killer views, I would also be too tired to enjoy the descent. I would just want to get back to my car so I could run some errands and start this blog.

Reluctantly I turned around and rode downhill seven miles to Crested Butte. And I’m okay with my choice.