21. Marathon Faith

“Be faithful, and leave the results to God.”
-Amish Proverb

In between surf sessions, I love to run.

The physical joy and mental relief that running has provided me over the years are immeasurable. When I look back at the peaks and valleys of my Silicon Valley tech career, the early morning runs in Rancho San Antonio and mid-day runs on the Baylands Trails were my saving grace. Lacing up for a run releases my mind from immediate concerns to the deep inner joy of pushing my physical limits while soaking in the fresh air, warm sun, and brilliance of nature, all rejuvenating me!

Running provides a sanctuary where my faith can be strengthened. I prefer to run the backcountry trails into the hills, stopping at the highest point of the run to meditate and pray. I feel closer to God up there, by myself, gazing down on the hustle and bustle of Silicon Valley below. It feeds my soul.

I caught the bug in the late 1970s when the running boom in the U.S. was hitting full stride. My first organized race was the Dana Point Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving Day (a 10K) in 1979. I will never forget that race. My roommate Brad Sarvak and I had the race leaders in view for the first few miles. We had no idea what we were doing. The Corona del Mar High School track coach, John Blair (1), led us on his mini motorcycle as the mile times were called out at a pace that made it clear that we were in deep trouble. And then it hit.

The last three miles are cemented in my memory as the most excruciating three miles of my running career. No matter how much I backed off, the pain increased. I didn’t throw up, but I sure wanted to. I remember Coach Blair asking me later why I didn’t run in high school. I don’t remember what I said, but it had to be something like, “Because it hurts.” I never had that problem with surfing.

Start of the Dana Point Turkey Trot circa 1979. Brad and I were at the front!

The Dana Point Turkey Trot became an annual tradition. As much as I labored in the effort, something kept pulling me back each year. Part of it was testing my endurance to find out how hard I could push the pace. I always felt high as a kite after the race for enduring the suffering. Another draw was the post-race party, which got pretty lively in the pre-celebration atmosphere of Thanksgiving (the draft beer helped!). Eating my fill of turkey and pumpkin pie later that day topped it all off.

I soon found myself running 10k races almost every weekend with my good friend, Ed Mantini. Ed was an Alberto Salazar look-alike, who seemed to run almost as fast. He challenged me each week to lower my time while introducing me to DMSO (2) as our go-to cure for virtually any running injury, which helped to keep our weekly mileage consistently high.

The Marathon
Before long, I signed up for my first marathon, the “Leatherneck Marathon,” at the El Toro Marine Base in Orange County. I distinctly remember hitting the 20-mile mark and thinking, Oh, this is what they meant bythe wall” . . . Those last three miles of that first Dana Point Turkey Trot came right back to me—times two!

Before long, I was addicted to carb-loading and the high-mileage training that the marathon required. I decided it was time to try and qualify for the renowned Boston Marathon, which required a fast marathon (sub-2:50) to get in (3). Anyone who has run Boston would agree that the excitement, energy, and goodwill surrounding that event are unmatched in marathon circles. Bill Rogers, who won Boston four times (1975, 1978-1980), said it well:

“…The marathon is the king of sports. And certainly, Boston is the king of marathons.”

Rogers wrote the book on “Marathoning” back then (4), while he was also winning the New York City Marathon four times in a row (1976-1979). His success propelled me, and his book became my training bible. I soon learned how to navigate the 26.2-mile beast and began chiseling down my finishing times to finally attain my goal. Thank you, Bill!


Meeting Bill Rodgers after the 1995 Boston Marathon was a dream come true!

The Pace
Looking back, I see distinct parallels between the marathon and my life here on earth. As I cross the twenty-mile mark for my final 10K in life, I can sense the challenges ahead. My pace is slowing, yet my focus on finishing strong is still there. These are the most important miles of my life. In marathoning jargon, my race has just begun!

If I went out too fast those first 20 miles, eventually, I would blow up. A successful marathon requires a steady pace that matches an intended (and realistic) finishing time. The goal is to keep within that pacing range for the entire 26.2 miles. That is much harder than it sounds by the time you reach mile 20.

At the 1994 California International Marathon (CIM) in Sacramento, I learned this pacing principle the hard way. The first 20 miles flew by, nearly 30 seconds per mile faster than my targeted pace. I decided I was having a good day. Ha. I stopped for a cup of water at mile 20 before the bridge leading to the finish at the state capitol, and that was it. I was done running. I walked all the way to mile 25 when a good friend, Paul Fick, kicked my butt (literally) to make sure I shuffled it in with him for the home stretch. I could not lift my feet above the ground. That wall seemed insurmountable! At one point, a guy called out to me from his porch as I hobbled by:

“Dude, you’ll need a new pair of shoes before you finish if you keep that up!”

I did not think that was funny. I was a physical wreck for several days after that race. The experience completely humbled me. I learned that the marathon requires a certain amount of caution and planning. To go out and run with your gut can lead to disaster.

This pacing principle carries over into life. Our life is not a sprint. Yet, most of us today will admit to going too fast much of the time. Even our kids realize this. Technology is stealing our margins and enabling us to do more than our bodies (and brains) were designed for. Like the marathon, if we don’t slow down, eventually, we will crash. I’ve seen it many times over in my tech career. It is not a pretty sight.

One version of this was told by former Google CIO Douglas C. Merrill in his book, “Getting Organized in the Google Era.” Douglas was in charge of taking Google public with their IPO in 2004, where he admitted to overworking and not taking care of his physical needs. He was too busy for that. Despite all the warning signs his body was giving him, it was not until the day Google rang the bell on Wall Street after their IPO that Douglas realized he had crashed. As he told the story in his book, he was getting into a cab on Wall Street with two female colleagues when they looked at him in horror, “as if my eyes were bleeding.” One of them immediately handed him her compact mirror, and he saw that the blood vessels in his eyes had burst and were, in fact, bleeding! In his words, “it was a miracle my brain did not burst.” He took an extended leave from Google after that.

As a life coach, I was trained to improve my clients’ capacity and set a pace they can maintain for the long-term view of their life. It is mostly about easing up on commitments to allow the body time to rest and recover. I found out myself how difficult that can be. Getting “downsized” was not exactly how I would have planned it, but I now look back and view that time as a gift from God. My pace may be slower, but I have confidence in the race plan to finish strong.

The Finish Line
The goal of the marathon is to finish, which requires a singular focus on the finish line. Nothing else matters. All the rewards of your training are waiting for you at mile 26.2. The euphoria of crossing that line is worth all the blood, sweat, and tears you put into getting there. I liken it to running as if you are a racehorse with blinders on. To look at or think about anything beyond the finish is simply a distraction that can cause you to lose concentration and potentially crash. Crossing the finish line turns the whole event into a joyful celebration. As my wife would assert with childbirth, in the end, the prize cancels out the extreme suffering you endured to get there. The victory parade begins, no matter how much you hurt.

I had never felt more joy and satisfaction at the end of a marathon than when my son Matthew and I embraced at the end of the 2016 St. George Marathon (his first!). The tears were flowing. It was a wondrous moment as we bear-hugged each other, drenched in the sweat and pain of our efforts. We savored the victory together. Marathons don’t get any better than that.

War Heroes at the 2016 St. George Marathon (“Finished!”)

The Bible tells us that our finish line in heaven will be even better than that! What awaits us at the finish line of life will be beyond anything we can experience here on earth. My heart’s desire is to cross that finish line strong in this life and hear the words,

“Well done good and faithful servant!” (5)

That euphoria of crossing the finish line into heaven is something I can only wonder about. It will exceed what our minds can only imagine. (6) God has mapped out an eternal destination that defies logic as we understand it. Heaven has turned the tide in my life here on earth. My focus now is solely on that finish line banner. I want to spend every day I have left in preparation for the day when I can cross that line into heaven. I plan to be waxed up and ready to go surfing when my day finally comes.

Marathon Faith
You may be asking how I can be so sure of this. How can we know that we will go to heaven when we die? For me, it boils down to faith. Marathon Faith. Jesus paid the price for our salvation. By simply accepting the free gift of his death on the cross, it is a sure thing. It is that easy.

The Bible is very clear about heaven. There are hundreds of references to what it will be like. The book of Revelation paints a particularly stunning description at the end of the Bible when heaven and earth come together as one. (7) Heaven is as clear a finish line at the end of life as the 26.2-mile banner is to the marathoner. I have my horse blinders on and refuse to think about any other option. Heaven is the finish line that matters. I am planning to come in running strong. It’s getting closer every day. Don’t miss it (8).

As C.S. Lewis once said:

“Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither.

————-Footnotes——–

  1. Coach John Blair, a Los Angeles Times Millennium Hall of Fame inductee, was a true innovator in the Corona del Mar High School (CdMHS) running community. Aside from coaching cross country and track at CdMHS for 18 years (1965-1982), Coach Blair pioneered ideas for road running events before 10K, and 5K road races came into being. He started the now famous Corona del Mar Scenic 5k (41 years and running), the “Around the Back Bay in May” race, and also launched the “Newport Beach Runners Association,” which helped inspire the Orange County running boom in the 1970s. He was always out in front on his motorcycle, ensuring the leaders did not miss a turn.
  2. Topically applied dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) was a miracle cure for nagging running injuries for Ed and me back in the 1980s. I still use it to this day and swear by its ability to cure an injury. I’ve had more than one miracle cure from it!
  3. After the 1979 Boston Marathon, officials lowered the qualifying time from 3:00 to 2:50 for men under 40 years of age.
    Source: Boston Marathon – The History of the World’s Premier Running Event, by Tom Derderian (Preface)
  4. Marathoning by Bill Rogers (published in 1982). Bill Rogers won the Boston Marathon four times (1975, 1978-1980) and the New York City Marathon four times (1976-1979).
  5. Matthew 25:23 (NIV):
     “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
  6. 1 Corinthians 2:9 (NIV)
    However, as it is written: “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived” — the things God has prepared for those who love him—
  7. Revelation 21:1-4 (NIV):
    Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
  8. If you are a bit skeptical, I understand! I am the first to admit that the Bible can be pretty difficult to understand. Especially parts of the Old Testament. I have compiled a short list of books that might help. Click on “contact Mike” on surfingforbalance.com

23. Stop and Smell the Roses

“Be still, and know that I am God.”
Psalm 46:10 (NIV)


We planted a red rose bush in our front yard when my dear mom passed away in January 2007. Anyone who knew Char was aware of her passion for the color red. That rose bush has been in full bloom on her birthday every year since. It has been a remarkable reminder to me of her spirit. Yet often, I zoom in or out of our driveway, too hurried to take notice of the latest bloom, let alone pause for a few seconds to savor the fragrant aroma. I am too stressed out for that.

Stressing Out
Growing up in Corona del Mar in the 1960s, I don’t think the word “stress” was in my vocabulary. Don’t get me wrong; we had our challenges. It was mostly around money. We didn’t have much! Our parents grew up during the depression and knew how to get by on nothing.

Today, my kids tell me that stress is in their DNA. It is unavoidable. I get stressed just thinking about their worries. I think we all would agree that stress is a byproduct of living in today’s world. So much seems to be out of whack. In surfing terms, life can be gnarly!

One only needs to look at our children in the school system today to see the depth of our predicament. Their challenges are earthshaking compared to what I faced at that age. How is it that grammar school students have to worry about a mass shooting at their school? (1) Middle school students today are questioning their gender identity. (2) College students are increasingly turning to suicide (3). We have a high school in our backyard that has a suicide rate that is four times higher than the national average. That is not something anyone wants to discuss, including the media.

I meet many parents and teachers from this high school at Trader Joe’s, and everything I see tells me they are doing a great job with these kids. But that does not remove the burden. The anxiety associated with living in today’s world is literally killing us.

We need a way to cope. “Slowing Down” (4) is a part of it, and having “Marathon Faith” (5) can surely help the long-term view.

But I need to get through today!

Sitting
A valuable tool for dealing with our burdensome world is learning to pay attention to the moment you are in. “Being present” is a nonjudgmental phrase allowing yourself to experience the here and now. Another common term is mindfulness, which Wikipedia defines as “The awareness that can emerge from paying attention to the present moment. (6)

We miss so much about ourselves in a day because of our desire for forward motion. As human beings, we are constantly striving to improve and get ahead in life. But amid our forward progress, we tend to miss what we feel in our innermost being.

“Sitting” is a simple form of being present that I often recommend to my coaching clients as a practice for learning to pause in the midst of their hectic lives. I discovered the sitting practice in my training to become a New Ventures West “Integral Coach” (7). Our instructor Steve March requested that we spend thirty minutes every day sitting for the entire year of our training. Thirty minutes a day seemed far-fetched to me. I quickly did the math to tell Steve he was crazy if he thought I had a surplus of 182 hours this year to sit!

Fast-forward one year. Sitting had become a personal highlight of the training class for me. I worked up to thirty minutes a day in quiet and found that time to be transformative in developing myself as a human being who could help others find themselves. Sitting allowed me the freedom to connect with my spiritual center while feeding my soul in the stillness. I cannot recommend it enough, even if it is for just five minutes a day.

“How wonderful it is to have a moment in time where we don’t have to be anyone.” 
Anonymous

Today I practice a daily ritual of sitting in the early morning for fifteen-plus minutes. I make a cup of green tea and then retreat into my sanctuary in the dark quiet of dawn. This time spent alone in perfect peace calms my heart for whatever God has in store for me that day. I have always felt that prayer should be a two-way conversation with God. Sitting provides me the margin to listen to what God might have to say. I come out of these sessions feeling refreshed and encouraged, with a sense of purpose around the upcoming day. The days when I have to miss my sitting practice are the days I feel the most out-of-tune with the world around me.

Sitting in the Surf
Depending on the interval and size of the waves, sitting can be a critical skill for surfing. It isn’t easy to properly position the surfboard for an incoming wave if you cannot effectively sit upright while doing the eggbeater with your legs to turn the board toward shore. I am always amused when we take a first-timer out to learn how to surf, only to realize how difficult it is for them to simply sit upright on the board in the water. I must contain my laughing out loud as they continually tip over, trying to find equilibrium on the board. Learning to sit on a surfboard can be a humbling experience.

I will admit, I am not naturally inclined to just sit on my board in the water, waiting for a wave. I get a bit anxious during a long lull between sets. If there is a wave anywhere on the beach, I am likely to paddle after it. Isn’t that the point of surfing—to catch waves? Yet, as I have grown in years, I am learning to appreciate that time seated on my board. It can be a rewarding meditative experience. In my stillness, I sense the presence of God amid His amazing creation around me.

Recently, my son Matthew and I were out at Pleasure Point (Santa Cruz) at sunset, and I experienced sitting on my board in a special way. I paddled into a space where no other surfers were around me. As I scanned the horizon to see that no waves were coming, I was able to appreciate the beauty of the surrounding sea as the sun began its disappearing act below a thin line of clouds on the horizon. The streaked cirrus clouds above me began to light up with bright orange and yellow behind the darkening blue sky.

An endless bathtub of dark magenta-colored salt water carried me into another world as I listened to sea otters cracking open their fresh seafood dinner in the distance. The lull synthesized my sense of peace and tranquility as if I was floating above it all. A seal quietly popped his head above water to greet me, just a few feet away, as if on cue. I settled into my sitting pose to soak in the unfolding experience as if I were watching a movie all around me. I did not have to be anyone. I only had to be. God was speaking to me. I was all ears.

I began to enjoy the lull and hoped it would last. I wanted to grab onto this moment and keep it forever! I had stopped to smell the roses, and it was heavenly.

“Peace” – Sitting tandem with Mark Magiera; San Onofre, July 18, 1991

—————————-

What Is Sitting?

  1. Sitting is a simple skill that involves focusing your mind on the present.
  2. Sitting is a practice of observing and discovering our true nature in the here and now.
  3. Sitting is like exercising a muscle you’ve never worked out before. It takes consistent practice to get comfortable.
  4. You do not have to believe anything to do sitting – it does not exclude any religion.

How to “Sit”:

  1. Find a quiet and private place where you can be comfortable and free from distractions.
  2. Sit in an upright posture with a straight back in a chair with your feet flat on the floor. Place your hand’s palms down on your thighs; be relaxed yet dignified.
  3. With your eyes open, let your gaze rest comfortably as you look slightly downward about six feet in front of you (you can close your eyes if there is a visual distraction).
  4. Take a few deep breaths, and feel the contact points between your body and the chair or floor. Notice the sensations associated with sitting–feelings of pressure, warmth, tingling, vibration, etc.
  5. Bring your awareness to your breath.  Do not change your breathing; begin to observe it without controlling its pace or intensity. Simply breathe naturally.
  6. Focus your attention on how the body moves with each inhalation and exhalation. Notice the movement of your body as you breathe. Observe your chest, shoulders, rib cage, and belly.
  7. If your mind wanders with thoughts, sensations, or emotions, gently let them come in and then release them with an exhale. Return your focus to your breath.
  8. As the time comes to a close, sit for a minute to become aware of where you are. Then get up gradually.
  9. Do this for 4-5 minutes at a time to start, and then gradually increase the time as you get more comfortable. Be patient with yourself. Like any new skill, it will take practice.

————-Footnotes——–

  1. According to the Pew Research Center, a majority of U.S. teens fear a shooting could happen at their school, and most parents share their concerns, 2018.
    Source: https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/04/18/a-majority-of-u-s-teens-fear-a-shooting-could-happen-at-their-school-and-most-parents-share-their-concern/
  2. Gender Dysphoria in Young People: A Model of Chronic Stress, 2021.
    Source: https://www.karger.com/Article/FullText/520361
  3. According to the American College Health Association (ACHA), Suicide is currently the second most common cause of death among college students in the U.S., 2021.
    Source: https://www.verywellmind.com/suicide-rates-overstated-in-people-with-depression-2330503
    Rosiek A, Rosiek-Kryszewska A, Leksowski Ł, Leksowski K., Chronic stress and suicidal thinking among medical students, 2016.
  4. See Chapter 14: Slow Down
    https://surfingforbalance.com/2022/03/23/14-slow-down/
  5. See Chapter 25: Marathon Faith (TBP)
  6. Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mindfulness
  7. The focus of “Integral” Coaching (a New Ventures West trademark) is not as much about being more effective or accomplished in the world (the “what” and the “how” of life), although that often will come about.  The intent is to assess the individual and design a program that provides freedom in their being; in “who” they are in the world. I call this “developing the individual.” This process is unique to each person I coach and typically takes a minimum of 3-6 months (meeting bi-weekly) to get deeply connected to the “Integral” Coaching approach. The outcome of this process is for the client to achieve long-term excellence with an ability to self-correct along the way to stay on track for whom they want to be in life.

22. “A Lotta Shit . . . ”

“Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”
– Mark Twain

Like the marathon, life can have its challenges after you hit mile 20. That last stretch can hurt!

My 1970s vintage Infinity surfboard now requires a little extra resin and fiberglass between surf sessions. It still rides fine, but it does take a bit more nurturing to keep it afloat after all those years of surfing. My running career has followed a similar path.

It’s naptime for the dog when the ding repair kit comes out.

With all of the miles I have pounded out over the years running marathons, ultra-marathons, and triathlons, I have to confess that my body began to show some wear and tear once I hit my fifties. These days, I know how to doctor things up with a bit of resin and fiberglass (and DMSO) to keep going, but I’d be lying to say that those miles don’t hurt more than they used to. I’m a lot smarter about how to prepare, and I keep my focus on just getting to the starting line and letting the rest take care of itself. You know what they say . . . “If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”

In 2007 I ran a half marathon that was somewhat prophetic in this respect. Here’s the story exactly as it unfolded.

­­

On a seasonably crisp October Monterey morning, I was approaching mile 11 in the Big Sur Half Marathon when my view on life after fifty was jolted. Big Sur is a relatively fast half marathon for time (it does not have the hills, as its name might imply), and it is extremely well-organized for a race of its size (~5,000 runners).

I had run a hard first ten miles and was struggling to regain my focus for the final three, while ignoring the red flares my body was sending me to slow down. I had turned fifty earlier in the year and was intent on proving that I could still run a fast time. Ha!

Oblivious to the serene setting of sailboats moored in quiet coves as we ran along the bike trail in Pacific Grove, I pulled up to a tall and lanky runner who had been in my sights for a couple of miles. He was running hard, so I latched on to his side to keep pace and regain some composure for a strong finish. My time goal was in sight, and I figured this guy could help push me in. We had covered a half mile or so side-by-side when he suddenly blurted out to me:

“How old are you?”

Wait, what? I’m struggling for oxygen, and this guy asks me my age?
This was not a time to be conversing. We were both breathing hard and near the end of our ropes. If I had the grit to initiate anything (and I didn’t), I might have babbled out a one-way, “good job” or “hang tough.”

But, “How old are you?” just hit me wrong.

As we bumped shoulders coming off the bike trail onto the street at Cannery Row for a long stretch of open pavement, I glanced at him. He appeared to be sizing me up, maybe thinking I was a threat in his age division? Finally, I found it in myself to respond, mostly out of the angst of having to say anything at this point of the race:

“Fifty! How old are YOU?”

Fifty-nine, was his immediate reply as we both continued to push the pace on the open street. I was glimpsing the finish line banner less than a mile ahead and decided to put on a final kick to get in. As he slowly faded behind me, I was hit with what seemed like a cannon shot from behind:

“A lotta shit between fifty and fifty-nine!”.

Say what?

He spoke the words with such purpose and conviction that it rattled me. I found myself in a dither as I crossed the finish line, suddenly oblivious of the time I had worked so hard for. Why the heck did he have to say that, and what on earth did he mean?

I stumbled through the finishing chute with the masses of sweaty bodies looking like a lost soldier who had just been hit by mortar fire. As I claimed my platter of free food, none of which looked appealing, I scanned around to ask him what that was all about. He had vanished, and I never saw him again!

I mentioned it to my fellow soldiers at the finish line party, and we all laughed as we guzzled down our hard-earned post-race rewards while listening to the rock band powered by people riding exercise bicycles. Big Sur always has a fantastic finish-line party, and we were, of course, oblivious to the road which lay ahead.


Not a clue [yet] what this guy meant.

Fast-forward nine years to age fifty-nine, I knew exactly what he meant!­

“A lotta shit . . .” pretty well sums it up. Mine started with knee pain, and progressed from there to my back going out on the day before I had signed up to run an ultra marathon. I recovered from that to encounter rotator cuff surgery, which I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy. The list goes on.

That story has become legendary among my running friends as we kid each other about the various ailments we experience while pushing our bodies to untold extremes in various sporting escapades. The running joke (pun intended) when one of us is injured is to say:

“Well, you know, ‘A lotta shit!’”

20. “We Don’t Do Email …”

“Man sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then sacrifices his money to recuperate his health.” 
Dalai Lama

One of my greatest joys in leaving the tech industry was terminating my email account at Oracle. That was another leash I did not mind removing. As a marketing manager, I performed most of my job through email. I managed independent software vendors (ISVs) who ran their software on Oracle systems. These ISVs were all over the world, so emails were flying into my inbox 24 hours a day. I had the weekends to breathe, but as time zones go, Saturday mornings would see emails from Asia, and Sunday evenings, they started flying in from Europe. It was relentless and required constant attention to avoid getting in the hot seat with an important partner.

I love email and what it enables. But I hate it more than I love it. My brain was not made to operate in this way. Even without my tech job, I can’t seem to avoid using email. But I did find a way to keep myself from being enslaved to it. Working at Trader Joe’s (TJ’s) has made all the difference in the world. In my interview, I was told,

“We don’t do email at Trader Joe’s.”

Are you kidding me? How can a company survive in today’s information-driven economy without email?  A Freakonomics podcast titled “Should America Be Run By … Trader Joe’s?”(1) hinted that they are doing quite well without email, and much more, that grocery store chains accept as modus operandi. I believe TJ’s is on to something.

Most of us would agree that society would be better off slowing down and incorporating more rest. Much of the chaos and societal ills we see in the world today can be attributed to our being overloaded. Dr. Richard Swenson nailed it in his 2004 best-selling book about the space that once existed between ourselves and our limits, “Margin”(2). To take away that space is like reading a book without margins. You won’t get very far. That is what is happening today; we are exceeding our limits.

Email is a classic margin-eater. It not only devours our free time, but also creates a continuous 24/7 flow of information that can spew data like a fire hose on full force with nobody holding the nozzle.  A small amount may hit the target, but most is wasted water, causing grief and exhaustion for all involved. We all have experienced how email has transcended into our personal lives and at work. Even a vacation can create a backlog of emails that is enough to make you wish that you never left.  

Yet, we must acknowledge that email is a way of life today. There is no getting around it if you want to accomplish something that involves more than just yourself. Approximately 333 billion emails are sent every day. That’s 3.5 million emails per second!(3) Email is the preferred method of communication in almost all situations.  

An interesting (and humorous) read about how email has impacted the mainstream business world is Dan Lyons’ “Disrupted: My Misadventures in the Start-Up Bubble.” Dan describes how HubSpot, a Boston start-up, was positioning its product as a means of reducing email spam:

“Our spam is not spam. In fact it is the opposite of spam. It’s anti-spam. It’s a shield against spam – a spam condom.” 

Just under forty years ago, none of us were doing email at work. It had not been invented. Looking back now, it was wonderful. Email first found its way into my work environment in the mid-1980s as I launched my high technology career at ROLM Corporation. We worked hard at ROLM without email. Yet when I left the office to come home, I was truly done. My work stayed at the office.

Then IBM purchased ROLM in 1984 and we were introduced to IBM’s PROFS  (Professional Office System), which was IBM’s first email system. Most of us viewed PROFS as a joke. It simply relayed information from IBM corporate, which had minimal impact on my day-to-day duties. It was like reading Morse code intended for the navy when you were in the army.  I could go weeks at a time without checking my inbox and often made fun of those (mostly management) who seemed to spend an inordinate amount of their day doing it.

By the time I left Oracle 25 years later, about two-thirds of my day was spent navigating email. The volume was suffocating. Even in meetings, I was only half-listening as I browsed my “urgent” messages.  Like the Israelites crossing the desert in the Bible, email became a cloud that followed me home and on my vacations. Improvements to the cell phone networks soon delivered email exchanges to my phone. Holy cow, I could send emails while sitting on the KT22 chairlift at Squaw Valley surveying my next ski run down (“Hey Mark, is my tax return ready yet?”).

Transitioning to Trader Joe’s

Leaving Oracle and my email inbox behind was great, but Marla and I still needed to find health insurance for our family. COBRA(4) is expensive! As we explored options, I decided to go into our local Trader Joe’s to complete a job application. No appointment was necessary. The application was quick—it only asked for my high school education.
Ha. This should be fun!

Next thing I knew I was sitting on a milk crate in the back of the store. Amelia (the Captain of the store) asked me a question about when I was available to work.  Our discussion went something like this:

  • Amelia:
    “I think you’re a good fit for Trader Joe’s. When would you be available to work?”
  • Mike:
    “That is complicated for me. Could I send you an email on the days and times?”
  • Amelia:
    “We don’t do email at Trader Joe’s.”
  • Mike:
    “Excuse me?”
  • Amelia:
    “We don’t do email at Trader Joe’s.“
  • Mike [extending my hand to shake]:
    “When can I start?”

Those words were music to my ears. Without a thought, I decided to give it a try. I am coming up on my fifth year at the store and have loved every day of it. When I punch out at the end of my shift, I am content to know that I worked hard to get the job done and can go home satisfied (and tired). Whatever is left behind gets picked up by the next shift. I’m working harder and resting more than I have in a long time. On payday, a TJ’s Mate hand delivers my paycheck with a sincere thank you. It may be missing a digit or two from my tech days, but the culture at TJ’s has won me over. As a life coach, I now understand the value of smiling and laughing all day. This is what I envision work in heaven to be like!

Here are my top ten reasons I like working at TJ’s:

1. “We don’t do email…”
When I enter the store, I turn off my phone. No email. If we need to communicate, we go face-to-face or ring bells. It is refreshing. I have more margin.

2. We’re on a ship.
We’re all at sea on a ship in the South Pacific at TJ’s.  Our jobs are crystal clear to keep our boat on course. One Captain (button aloha shirt), a couple of Mates (different aloha shirts), and the rest of the Crew Members (“Crew Member” T-shirts) communicate by ringing bells that allow us to be “armed to the teeth” to react to our customers’ needs on a moment’s notice.

3. Variety is the spice of life.
Each shift is divided into eight blocks (for each hour). Each block designates a different job in the store for that hour. At the top of every hour, we all switch jobs. In one shift, I work many different jobs to keep the store stocked, organized, clean, and profitable.  It sounds simple (and it is), but it makes my day fly by hand-over-fist, and helps me learn the entire store operation. 
Brilliant!

4. Huddles.
Meetings (called “huddles”) are 5-minute stand-up gatherings in the back galley to communicate important news about keeping things “ship shape” in the store.  No muss, no fuss.  Quick and simple instructions with some good food and grog to sample, and then all hands back on deck to help wow our customers.

5. Fist bumps, handshakes, and hugs.
Every day I get fist bumps, handshakes, and hugs from my fellow crew members at TJ’s, even at the end of a shift when they leave. This surprised me at first. If I were to exhibit this behavior at Oracle, I might end up at the HR office. The first couple of shifts I experienced this, I thought these folks were leaving the company! It does wonders for morale.

6. Happy people. 
Employees at TJ’s are happy, which makes the customers happy. I am happy to work there. It’s “hunky-dory.”

7. Everyone plays.
When I started at TJ’s, I wondered why they hired me. Then I saw others they hired, and I wondered why they hired them! It took me a while to understand their strategy. It’s like AYSO (American Youth Soccer). Everyone plays at TJ’s. They employ people with special needs who work right alongside the rest of us. It gives those individuals a great sense of pride to be a part of the TJ’s crew, and the benefits to all, overall, are huge.

8. Millennials.
Many of my co-workers are my young adult children’s age. They are fun, energetic, and full of interesting insights on life. Most of them have other jobs or school or both. They are all “gung-ho” to make a future. They talk to me like I am one of them. At T’Js, I am.
It’s a kick.

9. Hard (physical) work.
Trader Joe’s business model is all about very high volume to attain very low prices. I soon discovered the considerable amount of physical labor involved in accomplishing that. Like the pyramids in Egypt, it all happens one block at a time. The physical effort to move all that product in the back door and out the front door every day is significant. I walk an average of 4 miles and lift an untold amount of weight every day in the store. I have never felt better. I’m getting paid to go to the gym.

10. Just be you. 
TJ’s tells you they hired you because of who you are, not who they want you to be. So, the word on deck is to “be yourself.”  For those who know me, that is dangerous! I wear shorts and my Hoka’s to work every day. And I love dressing up for the holidays.


Eat. Drink and be Scary at Trader Joe’s

————-Footnotes——–

  1. Podcast: “Should America Be Run by … Trader Joe’s?”
    Replay: https://freakonomics.com/podcast/should-america-be-run-by-trader-joes-ep-359-rebroadcast/
  2. Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives by Richard A. Swenson MD
  3. Source Earthweb: https://earthweb.com/how-many-emails-are-sent-per-day/
  4. “The Federal COBRA Act gives workers and their qualified dependents the right to continue paying for their workplace health insurance if that coverage would end due to a qualifying event.”
    source: https://www.cobrainsurance.com/what-is-cobra-insurance/

19. Surfing Without a Leash

“I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”
-Bronnie Ware (1)

While the world’s first microprocessor (2) was catalyzing the personal computer revolution in Silicon Valley, the sport of surfing was forever changed by the invention of the surf leash. I was a sophomore in high school when I first saw a surf leash in action (at Swami’s Beach in Encinitas). I was stupefied! The idea of tying your foot to your surfboard with a rubber cord virtually eliminated any repercussions of wiping out on a wave and losing your board. It quickly became a de facto standard for surfers, which helped drive a significant transformation of the sport over the next decade. Most in the water today have never surfed without a leash.

Before the leash, surfing not only mandated good swimming and paddling skills, but also required a more cautious approach to the wave you were riding. If you fell and lost your board, the backlash could include a long swim in (after some cussing and swearing), paddling back out against incoming waves, and potentially an afternoon in your garage doing ding repair (if rocks or other surfboards got involved). Growing up surfing in the 60s included a lot of swimming, paddling, and ding repair. It was how we learned!

Pat O’Neill, son of acclaimed wetsuit inventor Jack O’Neill, is generally acknowledged for inventing the modern surf leash in 1971.(3) In those days, a lost board at Steamer Lane in Santa Cruz meant almost certain death on the rocks, so it is easy to understand his motivation. The surf leash is also how Jack O’Neill lost his left eye. The early versions were made from a coiled surgical cord that would shoot the board back like a bullet after a wipeout. Ouch! I imagine Jack shouldered his share of, “You’ll shoot your eye out” jokes with that one. (4)

An early version of the surf leash poked out Jack O’Neill’s eye!

The surf leash helped spawn an avant-garde generation of shortboard surfers fashioning a new style of surfing that required minimal foot movement on the board and maximum body language above the waist. Suddenly, the hot surfers were wiggling like a hula-hooper to slash and tear up and down the face of the wave on boards that were barely any taller than they were. There was no penalty for trying something beyond your ability, as you could immediately try it again. The result was a dramatic shift in what became possible on a wave.

Like Intel’s 4044 microprocessor, the surf leash had its skeptics. For those of us who had grown up surfing longboards without a leash in the 60s, this innovation to the sport was not all good news. For many who liked to freely walk up and down the board while riding a wave, strapping on the leash was analogous to attaching a chain and ball to your leg. Mobility on the board was limited, as there was a tendency to tangle with the cord if you did move.

The leash also negated the thrill of trying not to fall while riding a more challenging section of a wave. There were no serious consequences to falling, so why not try something crazy? Kicking out of a wave was a technically advanced skill before the leash (with longboards). With the leash, a swan dive was now just as effective in exiting a wave. I likened it to the safety net for the flying trapeze artists at the circus. The success of any given move did not look so formidable once you realized they weren’t going to die if they fell.

We quickly labeled it the “kook cord,” and agreed among our inner circle not to use it. Most troublesome was the increase in crowds that developed, as nobody had to swim in for their board if they fell. It brought out people at breaks who had no right to be surfing there. Getting outmatched by a wave and paying the price with a swim to shore and paddle back out was not only good tutoring, but also great for those in the lineup waiting for the next set. At a place like San Onofre, it could take thirty minutes for someone who had lost their board to reappear into the lineup.

My daughter Marisa navigating the rock dance with her leash at San Onofre.

However, it soon became apparent that I would lose quickly in the game of improving my surfing if I went without it. That caught my attention. Of course, I wanted to be the best surfer in the water, and there was no denying that the leash gave you more time to ride waves. As soon as I noticed someone pass me by with a new maneuver, I caved in and strapped the shackle onto my ankle.

When wave and crowd conditions allow, I still do sometimes paddle out without a leash. A sense of freedom and excitement immediately washes over me. It’s like removing the seat belt and rolling down the windows in my car on a bluebird day. Caution is in the air, but I feel free as a bird. Nostalgia sets in. This is how surfing was meant to be. There is an excitement of risk in trying to “hang five,” knowing I could lose contact with my board by falling. I can move up and down the board without hindrance or fear of getting tangled. My surfboard becomes a part of me that I hold onto at all costs. The stoke of a long ride without a leash takes on greater joy, lifting me to kick out with a howl. My soul is awakened in the triumph. It takes me back to my roots and reminds me how the ocean has been a part of my growing and learning as a human being. One day I will look back and realize that each fall and subsequent swim to shore was a part of God’s plan for my life.

Taking off the Leash in Life

After 25 years in several high-tech sales and marketing jobs in Silicon Valley (Chapter 12, New Beginnings), I took a year off to complete a rigorous training program with twenty other classmates to become a New Ventures West Integral Coach® (a life coach). At our graduation, we each had a moment to express what those twelve months meant to us. My summation of the twelve months was that it taught me how to surf without a leash. Unleashing from the security of my high-tech job (and paycheck) had provided me the freedom to live a life truer to myself as opposed to the life the world expected of me. I had discovered that riding the Silicon Valley Express train had me so wound up on a daily basis that I had lost track of who I was. I didn’t have time for that!

A big part of learning to be a life coach was learning how to be present. For me, that meant slowing down. A lot.

Amid my busyness, I saw my life passing me by. I was checking off all the boxes to earn a living, support my family, and care for my health. Yet, in that struggle, I had lost touch with who I was. The New Ventures West coaching program provided me the opportunity to paddle out without my leash. A new awareness began to wash over me. It was refreshing and new!

What I had experienced was clarified in a book I read, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying: A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing by Bronnie Ware. It is a memoir about Bronnie’s journey to self-discovery, which led her to care for the needs of the dying. Her life was transformed by that experience of tending to those who were in their final days on this earth. I admired Bronnie’s honesty about too many years doing unfulfilling work and how she was able to break that mold to live the life she felt she was called to. It is a simple retelling of how one can learn to listen carefully to our internal compass.

That twelve-month break from the Silicon Valley juggernaut allowed me to experience the liberation of who I was. It was not easy; I fell a lot and still do. Yet learning to enjoy the swim and gaining strength from the paddle back out sharpened my understanding of who I was inside. I learned to listen deeply to what God’s plan for my life is. It is a marvelous and life-changing experience that continues to evolve as I move forward today.

I enjoy trail running in the early morning and often run the same trail (Chamise) each week in Rancho San Antonio, an open space preserve near our house. It is a challenging climb and descent of over a thousand feet with beautiful vistas of Silicon Valley and the Santa Cruz mountains on top. On random days that I can never predict, this same sense of inner consciousness envelops me like a thick fog. Even though I am running, my body slows down to tap into my soul. It is magic. Some call it the runner’s high, but for me, it is different. I am completely removed from the run and not viewing my surroundings. It is a special connection between my body and nature. I come out from it secure in who I am and confident in God’s plan. I learn through it who I am. It brings me great peace. I look at my watch at the run’s completion and acknowledge the stats, but recognize that something much more important took place.

After graduating from New Ventures West, I left my high technology job behind and found a second career at Trader Joe’s.

More on that next!

————-Footnotes——–

  1. “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying: A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing” by Bronnie Ware
    Here is a quick recap of the “Top Five Regrets”:
  • I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  • I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
  • I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
  • I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  • I wish that I had let myself be happier.

2. The world’s first microprocessor (a complete central processing unit on a single chip) was introduced by Intel in March of 1971 (Intel 4044). This eventually led to the development of the personal computer (PC).

3. According to former world champion surfer Corky Carroll’s article Humble beginnings of surf leash (Orange County Register, January 7, 2012).
https://www.ocregister.com/2012/01/07/humble-beginnings-of-surf-leash/

4. In the 1983 movie A Christmas Story, Ralphie’s request to get an official Red Ryder carbine-action two-hundred-shot air rifle for Christmas is countered by his mother (and Santa Claus) with, “You’ll shoot your eye out!”.

Great Divide Mountain Bike Ride (GDMBR)

by Mike & Matthew Mulkey

The continental divide as viewed from our plane flight to Calgary, Alberta

Authors Note: This journal is a brief interruption to my book (Surfing in Heaven). Chapter 19 (Surfing Without a Leash) will follow in the next couple of weeks.

The journal following covers the 30 days of a bicycle tour that my son Matthew and I just completed on the Great Divide Mountain Bike trail. It is not edited (mostly transcribed using iPhone “Notes”…) but intended simply to document our adventures from July 24th to August 20th, 2022. There is a summary on the last page, All photos of our trip are available HERE.

I cycled a small portion of this ride in 1983 (where noted) at the same age Matthew is today (26).

July 24 (Day 1): 3 miles — Calgary airport to hotel

As we were flying in our Alaska Airlines jet over the continental divide in Canada (picture above) I had to pinch myself to make sure we were really on our way to this great adventure we had planned over the past two years… Thank you, God!

Yesterday (Saturday, July 23) was a complete blur — I don’t know how to describe the depth of work on the many, many(!) details (documented on my trello.com board) and planning items that went into the execution of this trip… It became apparent around 8 pm that they were not all going to get checked off on all the many tasks. At times I felt completely overwhelmed as the clock ticked closer to midnight (we were leaving for SFO at 5 am on Sunday), and our list seemed to be growing. Somehow, God and many of his angels carried us. I have no other way to explain why we are here in Calgary—especially considering my Covid diagnosis on Monday, which forced me to take three days off work (Thurs/Fri/Sat). It turned out that I desperately needed those three days to get ready. Matthew smartly took the three days before departure off. With all my many years of experience doing this type of thing, I somehow missed that. Even packing the bikes into the boxes became an ordeal. My bike was a bit of an unusual bike with “vintage” components – Ha — At one point, I was considering that I would need to completely disassemble it to get it into the box when it miraculously fell snug in (at 10 pm). I ignored a final check of my Trello checklist at that point (which I regretted) and went straight to bed, leaving Matthew in the garage, still tinkering.

At one point, I looked at all the myriad of gear on the garage floor around our bikes and told Matthew, “I wonder if this is all too much for us…”. When I had finally loaded my panniers with all the gear I was taking, I found it was way too much stuff. It must have weighed over 80 pounds! I was overwhelmed and told Matthew we needed to start removing things now! I pulled out Laura Brigham’s spreadsheet (of what she took on her GDMBR) and saw that we were over-equipped! I felt like the trip was doomed at that point. Then my wonderful wife Marla told us dinner was ready (when neither of us wanted to eat or talk), and the next thing I knew, we were setting our alarms for 5 am. That tasty and healthy dinner allowed us to pause and regain our sanity.

I can now look back and see how God answered 1,000 prayers to give us this trip. When I think of all the things that could’ve gone wrong, especially concerning the Covid testing at the Calgary airport at immigration, it was hard not to give God credit. Even when we reconstructed our bikes in the airport, there was not a single part out of place, and everything showed up on time in the right area of the airport. Calgary airport had a beautiful site to build our bikes with tools and water stations for our bottles — it was remarkable. Thank you, God!

Upon touching the ground in Calgary (connection through Seattle – monitoring our bikes with Apple Air Tags, which worked great), we assembled our bikes in the airport (no mechanical issues!) and cleared customs for Covid (I would have tested positive I am sure… although I felt fine). We finally removed our Covid masks outside and rode 3 miles to the airport hotel we had booked (by dinner time). Day 1 was in the books. We were on our way.

As I sat in our hotel room with my feet up on the bed (the only hotel stay of our trip), waiting for Matthew to get us dinner (he ended up getting lost, so we ate in the hotel), I began to realize that this trip was going to be a test of my faith to trust God. The fact that he got us to the starting line says it all.

Day 2: July 25 (34 miles): Calgary to Callaway Park Campground

We started our day with a decent breakfast in the hotel in Calgary before riding 4 miles to Walmart and Cabella’s (Calgary camping store) to pick up the extra supplies we left at home (some of which we forgot, like sunglasses and some we could not ship, like butane fuel for our stove). From there, we had a busy ride of 30 miles through the chaos of metropolitan Calgary to the campground on the outskirts of the city called “Callaway Park,” which was right off the Canada 1 highway ($34 Canadian) and next to a sort of amusement park for kids. Our ride was in and out of traffic, on and off a bike path, and was highlighted by a Boba milk tea stop (near Calgary University) that saved me (it was HOT). Matthew devoured a couple of hamburgers from a McDonald’s next door. We arrived at our campground by 8 pm (ready to STOP). We had a lovely evening camping on the grass, putting our tents and sleeping bags out for the first time to admiring the stars outside the city.

As I poked my head out of my tent in the morning, our campsite neighbor “Les” I heard a voice call out to me, “GOOD MORNING, HOW ABOUT A CUP OF FRESH COFFEE?” (in a porcelain cup with cream and sugar!). We gladly accepted and sat at the kitchen table of his RV as he served us. Les was a sweet man in his 70s who filled us in on some Calgary history and how he grew up at the ski jump area of the 1988 Olympics (before it was built). The Olympic ski area from the 1988 Olympics in Calgary had been a part of our ride (thanks to a local Calgary road rider who directed us). Climbing that ski hill and riding through a beautiful neighborhood of houses and homes on top (where Les had played as a kid) with beautiful fields of mustard was a remarkable change from the busy freeway (although it had a good shoulder for bikes). The homes were Huge!

July 3 (Day 3): 55 miles – Callaway Park Campground to Canmore “Wapiki” Campground

Rode 55 TOUGH miles!

We fixed our first camp breakfast of oatmeal and granola, packed everything up, and then shoved off. It got a little bit wet from the rain but quickly dried out as we rode on. Everything seems to be working well on the bikes, and despite a few loose ends (I can’t find the first aid kit!), we are on our way to Banff!

The 45 or so miles on Highway 1 leading into Banff looked pretty straightforward on the map. However, they were toward the mountains, which meant we were climbing up most of the way. It was hot, and with the newly added weight on our bikes, the riding took its toll on me. In the middle of a long uphill in heat that was feeling overwhelming (aka – bonk), our first guardian trail angel suddenly appeared out of nowhere. A car pulled over ahead of us and then backed up toward us.

Matthew and I looked at each other puzzled; this was a busy highway with HUGE trucks going 70 MPH! As we approach the car, the driver gets out, opens the trunk, pulls an ice-cold can of sparkling vanilla soda from the ice chest, and waves it at us. Are you kidding me!. … Matt and I pulled up to him as he was cheering us on, telling us what a good job we were doing and that he knew exactly how we felt, so how about a cold drink? His name was Shawn, and he was with a friend going rock climbing and just wanted to encourage us. Oh MY … He said, “I knew the water wouldn’t satisfy — enjoy this!” We just looked at each other and laughed. And it did! I felt great after that motivator.

To top the story off, he told us about a campground in Canmore (Wapiki) that we will go to and stay the night. Just before dark, Shawn and his friend show up from climbing and moves into the campsite right next to us! I think his friend’s name was John; they were Canadians and so lovely to us; he helped us a lot, just like a guardian trail angel would! We had a wonderful evening in town, devouring a large pizza at Boston Pizza Company with a couple of gallons of diet coke and water. It felt good to refuel the tank; we were both depleted after a long and hot day and not [yet] being in shape to pull all that weight, even if it was a paved road. It was a quiet evening in a friendly, secluded campground off in the woods, despite an active invasion of mosquitos… which I eluded by sheltering in my tent. Banff (and dirt), here we come.

July 27 (Day 4): 41 miles — Wapiki Campground in Canmore to Spray Lakes West Campground (Spray Lake) in Peter Lougheed Park

It was a long hot, ~20-mile ride from Canmore to Banff on a beautiful bike path that followed highway 1 straight into Banff. We were still climbing as the river washed by us in the opposite direction, and the Canadian Rockies continued to get bigger and bigger in front of us. In other words, we kept climbing… We had a great stop at the Banff Springs hotel, where Matthew bought us ice cold drinks, and we she sat out on the veranda surveying the Canadian Rockies with swimming pool sunbathers in the foreground. Time to get ourselves ready for the trail, which ironically started right outside the Banff springs hotel. We went back into town to get Matthew a fix on his bike computer (we were told we must have two!) before taking on the great divide trail itself.

We were eager with anticipation, and we glided off the asphalt onto a bumpy fire road late in the day (after 4 pm). We had 21 miles in for the day and needed another 20 to make our first campsite next to Spray Lake (wherever that was…?). On paper (“the map”), it looked easy – what is 20 miles? just a blink of an eye!… Ha — little did we know what we were in for! It was challenging and arduous riding as we suddenly were counting “tenths” of a mile like we used to count “miles” on the odometer. However, riding along a tree-lined and mostly shaded fire road of cross-country ski trails (in winter) was beautiful. Not more than 5-minutes in, we began seeing bears. Yikes! Our excitement to be on “the trail” carried us over some challenging climbs that were very rocky and loose. Peter Lougheed national park (our general area) was stunning. No people and a hundred mountains on both sides of the glacial valley we are riding up. Amazing views everywhere!

After five or so more hours of riding on the dirt and realizing that our guidebook (which I had memorized over the past two years) was printed in “2013” and VERY out of date… we rolled into camp with just enough light left to fix dinner and go to bed (9:30 pm). Matthew soon took over the navigation of our trip with his downloaded GPS maps from Adventure Cycling (more answered prayers that he had already downloaded them as we had no cell service now). When we stumbled onto Spray Lake and the campground (after another trail angel showed up in a sports car to straighten us out on directions — where did she come from?!). By the time we arrived, we were both exhausted for what seemed like a 12-hour day of riding. I fixed a somewhat comical dinner of burned canned clam chowder and canned beef stew (the last time we did that!) that Matthew had bought in Canmore. It was a ginormous day – we were now on the great divide. It was dark. We quickly stashed the bear sack, rolled into our tents, and slept well with an absolutely stunning star-studded sky staring at us— hallelujah! The Banff Springs Hotel and the sunbathers by the pool seemed like a thousand miles away.

July 28 (Day 5): 37 miles — Spray Lakes West campground (Spray Lake) in the Peter Lougheed Provincial Park to Canyon Campground — woke up to stunning scenery all around us, and Spray Lake sits right in the middle of it all. I’ve never seen so many mountains unmolested by people, cars, or buildings. The lakes and rivers are everywhere! We struggled to find the route as we left Spray Lake reservoir down into the Canyon Dam area. This was another long, challenging, and hot day as we adjusted to the dirt, washboard, and weight of our bikes. I was far from in shape for this! Thank God I brought my riding gloves, as my hands fixed on the WTB handlebars were taking a beating (I almost cut them out in our weight-saving exercise the night before we left…). And I’m not sure how you could prepare your body for this kind of riding other than just DO IT.

We had a couple of cars go by us (kicking up plenty of dust), one of which frantically stopped to tell us a Grizzley bear and her cubs were walking right behind us as we went by on the bikes. And then it happened a second time, and this guy had a picture of a large black bear on his camera that he showed us (walking right behind us). What?

No campsites were available at Spray Lakes, but we immediately ran into two more cyclists: Jeffrey and Leigh (from Ontario — took off a year to ride the divide). They guided us to a beautiful spot that was a day-use area overlooking Spray Lakes Reservoir. Jeff and Leigh (Canadian; married) are professionals who decided to say goodbye to it all and are keeping up a blog on their travels over the next year on the great divide trail: https://bybicycle.ca/blog/.

We changed clothes, took a swim (Mike), and had dinner there (picturesque setting over the water) and then ended up consulting the camp host, who led us to join Leigh and jeff at a nearby hiker-biker campsite. Nice! We got well acquainted with them and looked forward to bumping in again down the trail. They were more of our pace, taking every 3rd or 4th day off for a rest and exploration in the area. Their bikes were amazing – made in NYC – belt driven (no chain), and all internal gearing in the hub (zero maintenance!). They also had the Jones Bars like Matt’s. Very Kool. We guessed (never asked) that they could be close to $10K each with all the equipment they had.

July 29 (Day 6): 15 miles (of hills) – Canyon Campground to Mount Sarrail Campground

We decided to make it a short day to try and rest before our first crossing of the continental divide over Elk pass. Rode 4 miles to Boulton Creek Campground along steep(!) bike trails for some groceries and food after taking an hour at the park visitor center to charge phones and [finally!] make a call to Marla, which was a very poor WIFI connection. But at least we talked. Matt and I pigged out at the park snack bar on hot dogs (Matt 2), pizza (Matt 2), and ice cream (Mike), chased by an ice-cold Pepsi (Mike).

At this point, the trail took us into Kananaskis Provincial Park, which quickly became my favorite of the entire trip. Wow! We are following a very lush valley of green, gold, and blue, following a river leading up to a vast glacial valley with an untold number of humongous mountains all around us. It is beyond beautiful – the pictures don’t do it justice. Even a paintbrush could never replicate what we were seeing. I was mesmerized – but had to keep my eyes on the dirt in front of us as there were lots of potholes and washboards to avoid, even though it was primarily flat riding (still hot). ` `

At exactly 13.3 miles (yes, I was counting tenths at that point…), I felt another bonk coming on… It was hot and dusty and suddenly seemed like we had been riding all day. Then our next guardian trail angel appeared in the form of a beautiful lodge out of nowhere that sat right on the river overlooking the entire valley. Too good to be true. But even better – there hung a sign saying “Engadine Hotel” and “High Tea.” What?! I told Matthew this was surely a sign for us and that no matter how far off the trail, we had to check it out…! And we did. I knew it was right when they asked us to take our shoes off upon entering the lobby. The tea service was everything I had wished for, including a charcuterie plate of meat, cheese, olives, and crackers and a natural European flair. We sat in ecstasy, looking out over the river and the mountains while our phones charged (stashed behind the couch).

That high tea was a little expensive for our budget, but I had no problem paying it as it saved us that day.

We spent the night at the Sarrail campground right next to Kananaskis lake (upper lake), where I went for another swim (wonderful). Spectacular mountain alpine scenery. Matthew was tired and in the tent already when we were hit with a deluge of a thunder lightning storm just after dinner. Wow!

My favorite part of our ride …

July 30 (Day 7): 17 miles from Mount Sarrail campground to Elk Lake campground

It was a day of climbing over Elk Pass (6,443) for our first crossing of the continental divide and then down to the lower elk lake campground. After another grizzly incident at camp (I’ve lost count) — we rode off onto a tough climb up on a PG&E power line kind of trail that was lush with wildflowers, new pine tree growth, and LOTS of bear poop full of huckleberries. Lol. It was a tough climb, but we took a good break on top, at least a firm rock under our tires.

The downhill was rolling and fun, like skiing, as you could see the bottom of the mountain in front of you. Wildflowers flourished on both sides of the trail like an Olympic Downhill course with gates. At the bottom, we decided to have lunch at the elk lake trailhead (planning to ride on from there to Blue Lake). Well — we then decided to ride what some hikers told us was “5-Minutes on wheelchair accessible path” to look at the lake, and when we got there, we were immediately overwhelmed with the beauty and went in for a swim. We noticed the campsites were right at the lake’s shore ($5 Canadian), and we quickly changed our minds and decided to camp for the night there. After setting up our tents, we had lots of time, so we decided to do the hike ~5K over to upper elk lake, which some other campers had told us was spectacular. It was. It was surrounded by a rock amphitheater rising at least 3,000 feet high with huge glacial mountains surrounding an actual glaciated glacier in the middle. Just like Yosemite, water was coming straight out of the rock all over the place. And there was not one person there. Holy COW.

We had a nice dinner (fixed by Matt) and met some very nice folks from Calgary whom he stayed up with. They were just telling us about two moose in the lake last time they were there — and less than an hour later, that same two moose (we think) wandered right through our campground. It was hysterical.

July 31 (Day 8): 31 miles – Elk Lake campground to Blue Lake

We woke up to a ray of beautiful sunshine on the rocks around us on Elk Lake, bid farewell to our camping friends (who generously gave us gorp, cliff bar, and GU – thank you.), and rode back onto the trail at the Elk Lake trailhead. The scenery just continued to wow us — another winding fire road lined with brilliant flowers and mountains towering over us on all sides. It was a solid 31 miles to Blue Lake, which some bikers had told us about. It was listed as a “primitive” campsite and was free. Highlights of the ride included a grizzly bear popping out of the bushes 30 or 40 yards ahead of us and running full speed down the path ahead of us. Of course, Matthew pulled out the bear spray, and Mike pulled out the iPhone for a picture. Ha, it tells you where our heads were at…

Then we ran into a great divide hiker going all the way to Prince George (trail name: Spartacus). We stopped and chatted about his travels alone. He had lost his friend who led him on the trip to a sprained ankle two weeks into the journey, so he just decided to trek on. It looked pretty lonely to me, but these guys (and gals) are a unique breed. He ended up interviewing us for his YouTube channel.

At the end of the day, we made it to Blue Lake Camp and found the last campsite just waiting for us. We had a lovely swim and then fixed a great pad Thai dinner. We met our camping neighbors who were a bit wild (with cars and a dog) and then settled into our tents for the night. As Matthew and I were just getting to sleep, the fun erupted next door (they warned us) as our partygoers started lighting off a long series of firecrackers and Roman candles over the lake to 80’s rock music— it was quite a scene, not to speak of the fire danger. What? Another highlight was the camping neighbor coming up at the end of the night and offering us ice-cold Busch beer from his ice chest. Matthew said it was the best beer he had had in a long time. We are out of food — so looking forward to a store in our next town (Elkford).

Blue Lake

August 1st (Day 9): 16 miles – Blue Lake to Elkford Municipal Campground

Blue lake to Elkford was a fairly relaxed 16-mile ride. We got to Elkford by noon to do shopping, charge phones, shower, use WiFi, eat real food, and check in to the campground. It was time to take a break and analyze our entire plan for the trip going forward. Things like where we will end up and how to get home have become tactics on which we need to make decisions.

The municipal campground was by far the best we have seen yet — including free wood (delivered!) and unlimited hot showers with WiFi. Geeze, we felt like we were in a 4-seasons hotel.

After claiming a spot in the campground and scoring some free wood, we immediately shot to the café across the street in town and scarfed down a delicious Chinese combination dinner (our first prepared meal in a long time). We all but licked our plates as the food tasted too good to be true. This was working out well.

After showering and shaving, we rode our bikes to the local pizza joint, picked up a delicious large pizza for dinner, and ate every crumb at the campground, watching Matthews’s brilliant wood fire as the local deer families wandered by.

I liked the town of Elkford a lot – amiable people (it’s a coal miner town) and very clean and orderly and sitting right on the beautiful Elk River (which started at our Elk Lake where the water came out of the rock walls). Wonderful town, which for us was the perfect place for a break. And we were ready for it. Interestingly, last night, the pizza restaurant owner said the pandemic had crushed them… She barely held on and said she was looking to move from the area.

Elkford Community Campground

August 2nd (Day 10): 26 miles – Elkford Municipal Campground to Mountain Shadows Campground in Sparwood

We got on the road late again (1 pm) as we are using the free Wi-Fi at our campground to make travel arrangements home… As it is in life today, it was complicated.

As a result, we decided to ride mostly highway to Sparwood (FAST and smooth), as we had met two women at camp who said they rode the GDMBR route, and it was through cow pastures and clear-cut forest with cows that would not move…

Kind of a cruise day as we had what seemed like a tailwind as we merged in with more of the Elk River and began to fly south – which felt like silk after all of that washboard dirt. We zoomed into Sparwood and went straight to the post office bubbling over with excitement for our food pick up, only to find out it was not there (WHAT!)… After checking, we found out it was sitting in Carson, California. Audios to that one.

We placated our depression with hamburgers and root beer floats at the local A&W across the street (yes!) as we checked out the iconic dual axel 1973 (!) dump truck (Terex 33-19) in the center of town— only one in the world — an amazing story about how it ran 24/7 and had to have custom parts made when it broke down. In its day, it was the largest dump truck in the world (for 25 years).

Sparwood is the heart of Canadian coal mining country, and we quickly found out that our campground was 50% mine workers who could not get housing — due to a minimal supply (we talked to a young family staying there with two small kids). They said it costs $4k per month to rent a house there! There was also a small ski area in town. It seemed everyone in the city lived for the short summer — as the winter was long and COLD. There was a lot of pride around coal mining – everyone was proud of their hard work to keep it going. We also learned that all the coal goes via train to Canadian ports and then to China to make steel. Crazy.

We then did some unexpected shopping for food (a LOT) and settled into the Campground in town with free firewood (again) and the best-unlimited showers yet. I had WiFi again, so we finalized plans to train home (taking three days from Whitefish through Seattle and down the coast to Emeryville)… We devoured another fresh food dinner from the grocery store and had a good night’s sleep. Matthew woke up to a crackling fire for the second morning in a row — lol – what a life. Reflections on this trip so far are many, but one is the time in the morning to start a fire, brew up a mocha coffee, and sit and type up my journal notes from the previous day. Absolutely GOLDEN.

August 3 (Day 11): 25 miles – Mountain Shadows Campground in Sparwood to Fernie Campground

1983: … “stayed at Fernie Mountain campground. Raining. I decided to pitch camp at 11:30 am. Found out what it’s like to spend a day and night in the tent….”

More time on the campground Wifi to get final travel plans in place and on our way right out of the campground onto the great divide trail right next to our campsite. It was a severe single-track trail that went straight up through a beautiful, forested area. We went ~3-4 miles and then decided it was too difficult and had to retract… riding the next 20 miles into a strong (hot and smoky ) headwind on highway 43. It seems a fire has started somewhere near as that wind is really blowing…

We arrived at Fernie at ~4 pm to find out all campgrounds were full… too tired to ride further after riding an extra 4 miles to check the campground across town. We immediately bumped back into two girls we had met in Sparwood (Taylor and Dee) who were in the same dilemma. We decided to partner on finding a place. Dee met a VERY nice camper (Laura, with a camper trailer on a 1-year sabbatical from teaching in Montreal) who let us pitch our tents in her RV site and watch her dog (Moss) while she went out to dinner with a friend. We cleared it with the camp host, and we were set. Perfect. Another guardian trail angel had appeared. As for the dog Moss, he was out like a light right after Laura left, of course, partly because we all went right to bed. As it turned out, later that night, Matt ended up saving Laura as he woke up and noticed she had left her car lights on after returning — and of course, all the dogs in the campground (A LOT) then started barking when he knocked on her door to let her know. Ha Ha Ha. I slept through it all, but had a dream about dogs barking…

August 4 (Day 12): 31 miles – Fernie Campground To Baynes Lake PR Campground

Woke up to a windstorm in Fernie! Yikes.

We went into downtown Fernie for shopping and bike repair (rotating Mike’s tires back to front) and first stopped for a french croissant breakfast with fresh coffee at a small french bakery (Le Bon petit — amazing!). Downtown historic Fernie reminds me of an Aspen kind of town from the 70s, with the main street full of shops, cafes, restaurants, and a ski hill staring down the town. Very quaint and old school. Matt had [another] breakfast at the big bagel banger (Mike, just more coffee). I liked the feel of Fernie. Very active culture with a lively downtown scene and outdoor feel to it. I think we could have stayed another day. Matthew wanted to go mountain bike riding as everyone in town seemed to have one on their car. We bumped into an elderly Canadian couple (ha — my age) a few times during the day — doing our same route. Fun.

Since the wind was still blowing, we decided to go into a stiff headwind towards Elko as it was just finishing raining, and it looked like it could rain more. We decided to stay on the 93 highway for part of the ride —- which was difficult riding with all the traffic/trucks… but we made good time (paved) and then dipped onto a 15 or so mile stretch of reasonably smooth dirt that was beautiful rolling mountains and open pastures that led us into Baynes lake.

Set up camp and were immediately greeted by two camp residents (Amy & Wendy) asking if we needed anything. Ha – “how about a cold beer and bacon cheeseburger?” (Matthew in thought…)

Amy brought us ice cubes for our water, and Wendy brought cherries, freshly caught salmon, rolls, cookies, and cucumbers— what the heck. More guardian trail angels… They must have seen our meager dinner and felt terrible for us — Ha. I probably would too!

I was eating oatmeal, and Matthew was eating a hamburger he bought earlier in the day and had stuffed it into a bag inside his bike bag… Wendy told us stories of the different bikers who come through Baynes Lake on the divide trail — including a guy on a unicycle who was raising money for charity. Amazing.

The sky looks very threatening as we bed down…

August 5 (Day 13): 37 miles – Baynes Lake PR Campground to Eureka (Warm Showers)

Our morning started with Wendy coming over to our camp to offer fresh coffee, toast, and butter for breakfast. Are you kidding me? We had a lovely chat with her at her campsite/home, watching all the many birds she had feeding in her yard on a very green grass lawn (with the lawn mowed) and a waterfall fountain running in the background. She is a permanent resident of PR, like so many others there from around the Calgary area, but they only spend three or four months a year there in their mobile homes due to the weather. Note that the “mobile” homes don’t move. Her husband is an oil worker and is often gone, so she comes down to hang out at her pad at PR.

We got on our bikes late again after a hearty breakfast and had a beautiful ride through open pasture land and lush meadows with mountains and pine trees in the background. We met up with four or five other GDMBR riders at a country store in Grassmere (picture) and then blasted off for Eureka on paved road, with only an hour and 15 minutes to spare before the post office closed @ 5 pm (~15 miles). Luckily, we had a tailwind through the border crossing in Rooseville (MT) and made it to the PO in Eureka with 15 minutes to spare.

Amazingly, our 2nd food package from Marla is not there. ☹ Double Ugh. Although tracking says, this one might (should!) come in tomorrow’s mail… We took it in stride and rode off to our warm shower hosts, Latimer and Carrie, who treated us like gold and gave us full access to the house as if we were living there.

Eureka is called the small town with a big heart, and Latimer and Kari reflected that to a tee! Our next guardian trail angels.

They set us up in their backyard for tents, which was like a rooftop garden, and then Matthew jumped on the shower — perfect. We were then served a tasty dinner of deer steak/sausages (Latimer’s first shot at a deer — and it was mounted on his wall!) – Huh? Yummy mashed potatoes, grilled vegetables, and green salad were also topped off with everything but the bagel spice on top. Amazing. Then cookie dough ice cream for dessert— staying up till 10:30 pm talking about their experience on the GDMBR trail (they did the entire thing) and bringing out the map to clarify what we want to see when we get to Glacier National Park and how best to get there. Amazingly, they did all this with their first triathlon the next day, a 6-hour drive away. I don’t understand. Big Heart.

They are coming to the bay area in the fall, and I only hope they will look us up so we can take them surfing…

We ate that deer for dinner on the wall behind them!

August 6 (Day 14): 17 miles – Eureka (Warm Showers) to Graves Creek campground

It turns out the triathlon is Sunday (tomorrow), and they only need to drive today… because we woke up to a hearty breakfast of egg and cheese scramble on homemade wheat ciabatta with hot tea filled us up for our ride today. More talking till 10 am or so and then off to P.O. — …

EUREKA — Our food package from Marla arrived— hallelujah!

I can’t describe how good it felt to finally see it as we were depleted on food and starting to buy every meal individually, costing ten times our trail food costs. We spent the rest of the morning getting chores done in Eureka and viewing a quilt display (by monks), which looked like a big deal for the town as everyone from surrounding areas came in to see all the quilts hanging throughout the central part of town. We had a tasty Chinese food lunch at a food truck in the park, where they were taking donations for a lottery for winning a quilt, which Matthew contributed to.

It was hard to see the bikes loaded up again, as all the food fit, but we were heavily weighted down. We made one last stop at Latimer and Cari‘s house for water from their hose and then tracked off down the road for a ride of 17 miles to Graves Creek Campground. It was a lovely ride, I took several pictures along the way of open ranchlands, forested mountains, and wavering creeks wandering by us as we rode along a mostly paved and partially gravel road. No traffic at all. It was an easy day ride into Graves Creek, which was a perfect setting for a campsite right on Graves Creek (running strong). We immediately jumped in for a swim, Matthew, four or five times. I had a yummy dinner of our harmony vegetable stew and a Trader Joe’s sipping hot chocolate to finish it off. Matthew made a roaring fire out of wood that was not seasoned completely, and we sat around and talked until late into the night. These are times I will cherish. We had the campground entirely to ourselves. Peace and tranquility galore.

Matthew is cleaning up for dinner at Graves Creek campground.

August 7 (Day 15): 17 miles – Graves Creek campground to Tuchuck Campground

We had a very relaxed morning with my best yet double “thrive” mocha cappuccino and a macro bar sitting creekside watching the sunrise over the streaming water with the sounds all around me speaking of God’s incredible creation. Matthew was sleeping in, which was probably a good thing, and I just soaked in my surroundings. Our campground was enormous enough to fit a couple of RVs, and none of the other campsites around us were taken. I could’ve caught us breakfast if I had a fly rod, as our swimming hole was a perfect place to toss it in.

The day ahead was a long climb of 3000 feet over Whitefish Pass. Again, on paper, it did not look too bad… It started out paved and steady and slowly built to dirt and steep. Suddenly, lots of loose rock and gravel became extremely difficult for me as we got to the top. The climb seemed to go on forever as Matthew kept his cool in leading me and reading off the next milestones on the GPS map. But for me, another bonk was surely coming on as Matthew encouraged another stop in the shade to take in more water. Walking (I found out) was even harder than riding, as my panniers kept me away from my bike, making it difficult to push. We met a solo cyclist (John) from Denver near the top, doing it alone, and had a friendly chat. He was carrying a ukulele with him for companionship as he had been with a friend who decided he had more fun playing in Whitefish (than riding GDMBR) and told him that he wouldn’t continue on the trip. Lol. I could relate at this point of the climb! John was doubling back to Fernie and then over to the coast and back down the coast to Mexico. Ok.

The top was a bit anticlimactic (nothing much to see except an avalanche), and loose rock and boulders got even worse as we began the descent. It was all I could do to hang onto my WTB handlebars and keep moving, albeit very slowly… by the time we hit the Tuchuck campground, I was spent — this might’ve been my most challenging day… Matthew was the perfect companion who kept me motivated through the difficult periods. We had only ridden 21 miles today (over, I am guessing, 6 hours or more), but somehow, it really took it out of me. I watched every tenth of a mile go by on my odometer.

Tuchuck is a primitive campground on a nice quiet creek with nobody else. We had the pick of the lot for our campsite. It was beautiful, surrounded by lodge pole pines with a nice bathroom and bear protectors for our food. We stopped at the creek to filter water, immediately made a fire, and had a wonderful dinner of pasta, sausage, and vegetables. I needed that and slept well after a tough day’s ride…. Matthew said he saw a deer outside our tents while he was going to sleep as it was grazing. In the deep forest, we have lodge pole pines around us —- it was a picturesque setting in the campground for a quiet and secluded evening.

August 8 (Day 16): 25 miles – Tuchuck Campground to North Fork Hostel in Polebridge

I woke up to another fire with a Trader Joe’s matcha latte while Matthew had peaches and cream oatmeal. Our campsite was all to us until two BRITs arrived late evening (John & Paul). We had a friendly chat before bed and talked about the difficulties of the road ahead. They were both on bicycles, and John had done GDMBR four years earlier, so he brought his friend back to do it again to the Mexico border. They look like they’ve got some getting in shape to do! Most riders were running a much stricter schedule than us regarding daily miles. It makes me wonder whether they’re missing some of what’s around them as they go by. John and Paul are heading out this morning for Whitefish, taking on 60 + miles ahead. Yikes… As they rode off, I noticed the 2 Liter plastic Coca-Cola bottles on their “everything” cages up front and wondered how the heck they were going to do 60 miles today. As John appropriately blurted out with his formal English accent when he saw me put our food in the bear locker, “You two have nothing to worry about. We have a LOT more meat on the bone than you two”. And I couldn’t argue; they did!

We headed out this morning without much talking. The road was marginal at times — a couple more bear sightings along the way (which we get almost every day), but overall much better riding than yesterday despite the continued heat. We made good time into Polebridge around 1:30 pm. It was sweltering (into the 90s), so we got our free pastries at the general store (a formality for GDMBR bikers) and swigged down cold drinks (Matt a beer and Mike two mango ginger kombuchas). Hit the spot. Aaaahhhhh.

I met the hostel manager Oliver ($20/pp), and really liked the place, so I decided to stay, pitching our tents in their front yard. It was a modern log cabin with a library of amazing books (I think Oliver has read them all) and a large balcony and patio. Best of all, the hostel was almost cold inside. We showered, shaved (Mike), and sat down to read some of Oliver’s books. I got caught on “One man’s Wilderness” By Sam Keith (Richard Proenneke), and Oliver let me borrow it for a day. Richard Proenneke reminds me of Oliver.

A Black bear was rummaging in the bushes as we got ready to go to the restaurant next to the Polebridge general store (a short walk). We had a yummy dinner of a pulled pork sandwich (Matt), a Gyro with fries (Mike), and more COLD drinks. The camp hosts of our campsite tomorrow (at Bowman lake) bumped into Matthew and had a good chat – charming people. He is the mayor of his town in Northern Montana. We returned to the hostel to read some of Oliver’s books in absolute QUIET and talked to him about how much he liked the place. He’s been there 20 years (his family is all back in Germany), and he looked to me like he did not want to leave. He had his own greenhouse (with vegetables he eats) and solar running the house. He said he eats fresh vegetables all summer and fresh meat all winter. We had a good sleep amidst a few barking dogs in the distance.

August 9 (Day 17): 7 miles – North Fork Hostel in Polebridge to Bowman Lake campground

I woke up and strolled into Oliver’s study to read trail guides for our ride today to Bowman lake. Complete quiet — this hostel was VERY peaceful. I went to the general store once Matthew woke up for a drip coffee (with oat milk) and my free pastry from yesterday (saved it – huge huckleberry scone). I watched the many morning campers come and go as we sat on the porch and took it all in. Matthew said he had finally gotten into the trip. lol.

People are amiable and easy to talk to. We could sit here all day. We finished our breakfast and mounted the bikes for what appeared to be (from all discussions with other campers) an “easy” ride 7 miles up to Bowman Lake in Glacier National Park (our first entrance). Ha — it turned out to be more challenging than expected (as usual) on a hot and dusty road as the temperature is in the 90s again around the valley. Cars were coming down from the lake too fast with lots of DUST, a four-letter word in Montana. Still, we did get up there by 1 o’clock safely and joyously parked at the edge of the lakeshore to see the magnificent bowman lake with the surrounding mountains of glacier national Park around us. Wow!

We found a nice campsite directly across from the camp host, whom Matthew had met in pollbridge and got to know quite well. We immediately moved to the lakeside to spend the entire afternoon and into the evening, where we cooked our dinner and watched the lake change tones and colors as the sun slowly crossed the open sky. We do not see clouds all day until near sunset, when they start moving in as the mountains around us change colors. It was a wonderful time. Matthew went in for four swims, I think, telling me he wanted to swim to the end of the edge and back of the lake, which honestly gave me concern as the water was freezing! But he may do it tomorrow, so I stand prepared to watch him as he seems pretty determined. I went in a couple of times and loved the refreshment of the water and the glorious surroundings as you swim.

We turned in early and had a brief rainfall on our tents which caused us both in the middle of the night to get up in darkness and put our flies on. But it never did rain much — it just kept threatening with drops. I’m not sure if Matthew slept as well, but now that I’m at Lakeshore the following day having my coffee, I’m guessing that he’s sleeping in good today. We don’t have to leave until later today, so we plan to sit and enjoy Baumann Lake while here.

Thank you, Lord!

Tranquility at Bowman Lake (Glacier National Park)

August 10 (Day 18): 7 miles – Bowman Lake campground to North Fork Hostel in Polebridge

Oh Lord, oh Lord, how magnificent is your creation. How glorious are your ways. I profess to the truth of your Holy Scripture. Oh Lord, how magnificent is your name on all the earth. As I sit here at Lakeside on Bowman Lake and contemplate the 19 days we’ve had on this trip and study glorious mountains around me with the beautiful lake at my toes edge, I realize how great our God is. It is in the morning, and Matthew is sleeping; I think he needed the sleep, and I have my mocha Starbucks “Via” cappuccino at Lakeside (we finally found some Via!).

Watching the lake’s colors and texture shift to the movement of the sky above gives me a script for my journal in describing our day yesterday. One thing occurring to me is how little I understood and knew Matthew. He has the warmest heart in the world. And his ways are beautiful, and his personality is sweet as honey. It has been a glorious thing to get to know him. I thought I knew him, but he taught me about who he was on this trip. I realize I have been trying to fit Matthew into my view of who he was. The time with Matthew is the time that God gave me as a gift to understand and see him and, hopefully, in the future, to encourage and support him in the path he takes in this life. It is not my path; it is his path. I thank you, Lord Jesus, for that opportunity.

This is also a point in the trip where I am dearly missing my beloved wife Marla, daughter Marisa, and of course, our new addition to the family, Willow (new dog!). It is hard, as we have been out of cell touch for five days. And we have one more day of that, which causes my heart to ache some. But I know it’s all for good, and we will soon be back in touch. So, I am spending this gift of time at the lake praying for health, safety, and wellness for all of them at home. As the textures and colors and smells of the lake and sky and mountains around me change, I sense that is how life changes.

I feel more strongly than ever that I’ve been on a path to teach the world about the truth of the gospel and Jesus Christ. Thank you, God, for placing that on my heart. It is such a clear direction and purpose for my life. I have not one question in the world about what it means. Thank you, God, for this day again and for my family’s safety, health, and wellness at home.

Amen.

Matthew joined me for breakfast of oatmeal on the lake shore, and we decided (after talking to our camp host friend — Leap) and the ranger (Marty) that we would do the hike to Lower Quartz Lake (a 5-mile round trip) to try and get a cell signal to Marla. It was a beautiful yet strenuous hike (with my “Zero Sandals”) along a lush forest path with huckleberries galore, which was a nice change of pace from the bikes. No luck, unfortunately, on the cell signal — so we hiked back and packed up for a late departure for Polebridge (~3 pm). I had a final conversation with our other camp host friends – the one who is the mayor and retired CHP officer — he reminded us a lot of Rich Maher.

Finally rode an easy 7 miles to Polebridge. I stopped at the ranger station to ask about WiFi, and he let me use the phone to call Marla (praise God!), so at least I could leave her a voicemail.

We feasted on a GRIZZLY pizza at the general store (and mango kombucha!) as we found out they were having an outdoor movie night of “Napoleon Dynamite” at 9:30 pm — FUN. Set up camp at the hostel and relaxed to read in Oliver’s library (more of “a life in the wilderness”) while talking to a GDMBR hiker who had just arrived — “Matt.” He was hiking from Waterton, NP, to the coast — he is a retired lawyer working with microbreweries in NC — he had great audible recommendations.

I also chatted with Ganesh and his 8-year-old daughter— who left for Bowman lake at 10 pm in a car… From Berkely. They got lost, I heard the next day.. . I sent Matthew to the movie, turned in early, and had a perfect night’s sleep — due to being tired from our rain exercise the night before.

Lower Whitefish Lake Campground

August 11 (Day 19): 28 miles – North Fork Hostel in Polebridge to Lower Whitefish campground

We woke up in our quiet setting at the north fork hostel to chilly air with chirping birds, the buzz of hummingbirds, and light fog with dew on the bikes and tents (the first time we had dew). Waiting for the sun to rise and burn it all off (and Matt to get up) so we can resume our ride after a good two days of rest from long days on the dirt roads. We almost stayed in Polebridge one more night as Matthew wanted to do the full moon river float down the Flathead River with Amy and others from the general store he had met at the movie last night… Clay drove by in his truck as we were climbing up the hill out of town (“f…that hill!”) and offered WiFi at his home for me to call Marla — thank you – yet another trail angel! Unfortunately, when we returned to Polebridge, Matthew discovered that the river float was an “employees-only” event, so he could not participate… bummer.

So we regrouped and left for Red Meadow with a 2nd baked Rueben sandwich stashed in the bags (best ever — that Polebridge bakery was amazing). We had a long grind ahead of us, and I think it was after 1:30 or 2:00 by the time we started to ride (NOT my high-energy time of the day…). We had to climb over 2500 feet to get to the first campground. It was a long haul that slowly got steeper, although the road was pretty good most of the way. The steeper portions at the end were still tough for me. Matthew patiently kept my pace and encouraged me — just like a good domestique teammate in the Tour de France.

One highlight was being passed by “Stephanie,” who had a trail name of “puffin.” She left Roseville (that morning) and was riding all the way to Whitefish, which was well over 100 miles (that took us almost a week). It was her first day on the trail, and she was planning to ride all the way to Mexico in one month. What? Fortunately, her parents were waiting for her in Whitefish because she had a serious head cold, a very light set up on her bike, and was not prepared for having to spend the night and fix dinner by any means… But she was quite an interesting study, a marketing manager in North Carolina on the Outer Banks, and said she competed in 150-mile gravel events and many others. It was an excellent example of the type of people we see on this trail. And she was quite open to discussion and even took an LMNT from Matt, saying she had heard about it on social media. She zoomed off as Matt, and I got back on our bikes and continued pulling through the climb (she later that night texted Matt that she made it to Whitefish).

As we were approaching Red Meadow (and the summit), or so we thought, two women driving by from Utah (plates) pulled the same event that we had in Calgary — stopping and pulling two waters out of the trunk of the car and waving them at us as we approach got our bikes. AYKM! More guardian trail angels…It was a big motivator, and the 16-ounce waters went down in a nanosecond. We wanted to talk, but the mosquitoes immediately went on the attack and started mobbing us. Literally, Matthew had blood running down one leg! So the conversation was cut short, but they appreciated that I had attended the U — and we continued our climb from there.

The rest of the way went OK after our inspirational Utah fans. We came into the campground at the summit just in time to have a nice swim in the red meadow lake (beautiful) and talk to our friends we had also met on the trail who were traveling in a group of four more along the pace Matthew and I were keeping. They had lots of insight into the hostile in Whitefish and the many services they offered, including picking them up on their bikes from Banff.

We didn’t think much of the campground, and the mosquitoes were performing a blitzkrieg on us again — so we zoomed off after the swim and made it down to lower Whitefish lake campground., a VERY rocky descent. I arrived Just in time (8pm-ish) to set up camp (free again in Montana) quickly for dinner and put the mountain home lasagna with the rest of the vegetable mix, which had way too much salt from the bottom of the bag. That caused me to be extremely thirsty for the rest of the night, of course, the one night, we didn’t have much filtered water to drink. I was listening to Hemingway’s “A Movable Feast,” and he kept talking about having DRINKS at the bar, so I finally just got up in a rainstorm and gulped down the remainder of my water. It was worth it.

We had a nice fire, the mosquitoes were nowhere near as bad as Red Meadow, and we both settled in for a good night’s sleep as a raging electrical thunderstorm hit upon us like a bat out of hell — lightning up the campground like daylight every two or three minutes. Suddenly, we were scrambling to get everything wrapped up, hang the Ursack, and get ourselves into our tents to stay dry. By 2 am, the moon was full in a clear sky and shining like a flashlight into my tent. Wow — It was another AMAZING day. Like every other day — as different as a fingerprint from the rest. Praise God for taking such good care of us and for hearing how Marla is doing with Willow (she is BUSY…).

August 12 (Day 20): 42 miles – Lower Whitefish campground to Columbia Falls RV Park

Yikes — almost back to civilization and into our 4th week! It has sure flown by.

I woke up dry after our electrical thunderstorm last night. Exciting! The last two nights have been the best sleep I have had on the trip. I woke up to bright sunlight shining into camp to dry our wet clothes on the line (so glad I brought that ursack line — as we used it as a clothesline several nights). Journaled as Matthew got some extra sleep and appreciated the quietness of our camp (about half full) and the sounds of the birds singing their different melodies around us. So glad we did not stay at red meadow camp. Mosquitoes alone would have done us in — but no campground spaces open anyway. And delighted to have that 7-mile rocky descent behind us also.

We downed our oatmeal+ breakfast and loaded the bikes to the lake so that we could make more water for the ride to Whitefish. It was a fantastic descent into Whitefish with an oiled dirt road and excellent easy gliding “most” of the way. We needed to make the post office by 5 pm for our final food pick up from Marla. We were making perfect time and then paused for probably 30 minutes to talk to another father-son team from Australia (Stewart & Will) from the Gold Coast — Brisbane — their last name was: “Bible.” lol— Then, Stewart tells us, “My wife’s name is “Holly”!

You gotta love that Aussie Humor.

We had a lively discussion with them as they came from the Mexico border (63 days in) and heard many stories about their travels. One is about a bear harassing them at home they were camped at (outside), where the lady locked the door to the house. We tried to give them lots of tips for what was ahead as they were going north, and we traded stories of food stops, including the guy who spent $400 at the Polebridge bakery (I understand).

Once we saw lower Whitefish Lake, it was up and down hilly riding around the lake. And then suddenly, we hit the asphalt, which made it much easier (aaahhhhhh). Riding into Whitefish was a bit of a shock as we re-entered civilization. It wasn’t as touristy as I had anticipated (like Banff). It’s a very neat town with beautiful (huge) homes. Everything seems so new and nicely groomed with tennis courts, golf, and LOTS of activity on the lake with beautiful boats. It reminded me of Lake Tahoe — but newer and much less crowded.

We immediately rode to the post office to find our package waiting (Yeah), that was a thrill!

Reloaded on food and mailed back a package of warm clothes that neither of us were wearing since the weather has, for the most part, been very warm and sometimes hot. We found an outdoor barbecue place (john said they frequent — Piggyback BBQ) and ordered two amazingly huge burgers topped off with sausage and a couple more gallons of cold drinks.

As we were feasting, an electrical storm moved in, and it appeared that the day would end right there as the clouds were dark and the wind was swirling like a tornado. But as quickly as it moved in –, it moved out, and by the time we were ready to mount our bikes for Columbia Falls, it was gone entirely. I couldn’t believe it!

It was getting late, so we decided (with John Arledge) to aim for the RV park in downtown Columbia Falls rather than ride the extra ten or so miles to John’s house. We ran into a local doing a century ride and advised us to try aluminum Road, where he thought there’d be some free camping. It didn’t pan out, so it was dark when we were ready to hit Columbia Falls. We rolled into the RV park, picked the last available spot, and shot into town for some groceries and ice cream. Upon arriving back at the RV park, probably well after 11 PM, we both showered and tucked into our tents for a good night’s sleep, which was interrupted by another loud and lively electrical storm that rained on us pretty well before we slowly drifted off to sleep. Both Matt and I had to get up to fasten down our rain flies. Full moon night.

I slept pretty well, and in the morning, it was clear as a bell and windy, which helped to dry everything out.

August 13 (Day 21): 27 miles – Columbia Falls RV Park to Apgar campground in Glacier NP

1983: … “stayed at Apgar campground. Montana roads are absolutely the worst imaginable.”

Breakfast at Montana Coffee Traders, just down the street from our RV park — is excellent. WONDERFUL drip coffee in a mug with cream and honey. We mapped out our day to glacier NP — did some final shopping / ATM cash, and were on our way. Aside from 2-3 miles of no-shoulder craziness on the major highway.. we were mostly on a paved bike path that was very nice into Glacier NP. I got to the Apgar visitor center (excellent) for questions about our strategy (going to the sun…) and decided to camp at Apgar and give it a GO in the morning (early). They told us, “it is 16 miles to the top, and you can’t leave any earlier than 6 am due to road construction.” We knew we had to be off the road by 11 am, so that should work out, right?

Did the $5 hiker-biker campsite with three other hikers (Brenda; Ninja; space alien? — and another guy on his own). Checked out the little town of Apgar (like south shore Lake Tahoe) with lots of boating and food/drink options. Matthew and I returned there for two ice cream shakes of huckleberry heaven! Matthew brought back a 6-pack for Brenda and the space alien guy, and we chatted until it was time to turn it in. It was an interesting combo of those two…

Sunrise on Lake McDonald as we departed for our ascent of Logan Pass (Rising to the sun)

August 14 (Day 22): 44 miles – Apgar campground in Glacier NP to Rising Sun campground in Glacier NP

1983: “Hit Saint Mary Lake (picture-perfect glacial lake) for my usual end-of-day swim and bath.”

I could not sleep after 2 am as I had to get up at 5 am (quietly in the dark) to get the 16 miles to Logan summit before 11 am, right? We were looking good — although VERY cold. Then I went by a sign (on McDonald lake) that said, “Logan pass 16 miles”. Wait, what!!?

I had to let it sink in for a few minutes in my frozen stupor (my hands were sending painful twitches up my arm) — and then it hit me; my odometer read 16 miles, so we had to go “32” miles to get to the summit BY 11 am — or get sent back down by the park ranger….! Oh MY.

My first thought (and Matthew) was “IMPOSSIBLE “ …. We decided to take a break— get warm clothes on — and re-think this. We had 16 more miles to climb 3,200’ in 2.5 hours (it was 9:30 am). We broke it into three segments of 5 miles each — with two good breaks to refuel and change clothes. We both pushed hard and steady and made it to Logan pass (6,646’) with 8 minutes to spare…! My most challenging day on the trip, for sure. We pushed hard for a solid 5 hours without letting up.

Wow — what a great feeling— and the scenery on top was magnificent.

I had a cookie from the visitor center on top to celebrate and rode the 10 miles down to the rising sun campground and found a spot— charming— immediately over to the restaurant for a well-deserved lunch (Matthew two). Ha.

Relaxing around the campground in the afternoon as we both were tired — Matthew’s 2nd nap in a row. We went for a refreshing swim in lake Mary, made a yummy dinner of veges and chomps, and sat and watched a local black bear rummage for foliage on the hill right next to us. Fun.

We carried our hot chocolates over to the ranger’s campfire talk, which was very informative on Glacier’s future challenges (climate, fires, bears, cars, fish, wolves, etc.). Slept well after the rising sun.

What a thrill to ride it with Matthew 40 years later (at the same age)

August 15 (Day 24): 38 miles – Rising Sun campground to Many Glacier campgrounds in Glacier NP

1983: “While snacking on raisins on the lake, I heard a loud splash. I looked to see a black bear taking a swim.”

I woke up to a beautiful “rising sun” and realized why this area got its name, as the sun hits it first in the morning. Casual-paced breakfast of the remainder of our oatmeal (and double Columbian Via mocha) and packed up to ride over to many glacier. Huge tailwind to St Mary visitors center — where we caught Marla by phone on their WiFi — and ate a massive sandwich before riding off the 25 or so miles to many glaciers. Hit a stiff headwind, including 3 miles of dirt. Many glacier is like a slice of Switzerland + Yosemite — wow! I immediately ran into a BIG black bear crossing the road and then a moose grazing on the Swiftcurrent Lake. Amazing. We checked into our campground and went back to the beach at Swiftcurrent Lake for a refreshing swim — and sunbathing on the smooth pebble rock beach. We both passed out till 6:30 or so…💤

Back to camp for a dinner of Indian curry + veges + chomps + hazelnuts and a giant choc chip cookie and the ice cream from the store (and of course a salmon sandwich for Matthew from the SC cafe). Matthew got the fire going to settle us in for a good night’s sleep.

Grazing moose on Swiftcurrent Lake in Many Glacier

August 16 (Day 25): 00 miles riding; 10 miles hiking – Many Glacier campgrounds in Glacier NP

I spent the morning in the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn getting an egg wrap breakfast, coffee, phone charge, and sending a couple of texts — when bars appear!…Ha. as Matthew was getting an excellent dreamy (and LONG) sleep 💤 .

The first time we did not need to pack our bags in the morning.
Nice.

We took it real easy in the morning and then off by 1 pm for the 10-mile hike (1800’ climb) to Iceberg lake. Immediately encountered bears — as they rummaged for berries along the trail. I stopped at the waterfall (Josephine, I think) for a snack and swim (Matthew) and passed over 100 people (seriously) going back down (and more bears). It must be worth the hike. And yes, Iceberg Lake was worth it all (and then some). WOW! I was especially struck by the wildflowers. SPECTACULAR. Never seen a lake like it. I immediately went in (with a kid named Luke), knowing it wouldn’t happen if I waited. ICE COLD is an understatement. Or “harmfully cold” as one other hiker described it. And, of course— Matthew went in twice. Crazy. But it was invigorating after. We both were very thankful for the experience. The hike down was much smoother (literally dodging bears), and we went straight to camp to sit down and have a cold drink. Our hiker/biker camp got busy as three more joined us:

  • dark web — this guy is a NUT — hiking GDMBR and got fined $235 for not having a wilderness pass…
  • Charlie Janssen (cjanssen2388@gmail.com) — trying to be one of only ten people to hike the triple crown in 1 year (wife a traveling nurse) — told us the story of circling orbs one night in Virginia (sent him “make my bed “ book). WILD story.
  • A biker from NJ (Brian Sampson, 34 years old), who has been on a 4-year sojourn on his bike… He’d been everywhere! told us where to go in Canada and Alaska (the golden triangle in Alaska)… what an adventure he was on.

Dinner of the last of our vegetables with chicken and noodles and sat around the fire to hear of Brian’s escapades (all state capitals except Honolulu + book on 100 places u need to go before you die); And Charlie’s stories on the trail chasing the triple crown (AT, PCT, GD) around Matthews warm fire. Fascinating to hear of their experiences (Brian, no stove!) traveling alone.

Matthew before his plunge into Iceberg Lake at Many Glacier

August 17 (Day 26): 00 miles riding; 3 miles hiking – Many Glacier campgrounds in Glacier NP

Yikes— one more day… Really!?

Charlie, Dark Web, and Brian were all gone when I woke at 7 am. These guys don’t let any grass grow under their feet.

I spent the morning in the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn getting Eggs and trout sandwich breakfast, coffee, and sending a few texts — but no service today…

Matthew and I packed our hiking gear and headed off for a hike around Swiftcurrent Lake over to Lake Josephine. We weren’t sure how far we would go and ended up at lake Josephine on a beach with a family that was hiking further up to the Grinwald glacier and lake. We had heard from other hikers that bears were around and saw one across the lake jump in the water for a swim. We followed him around the lake shore, rustling through the bushes when suddenly he popped up on the dock right in front of us and began a slow trot directly toward us. It was shocking. All eight of us ignored protocol and ran straight into the bushes while Matthew smartly turned and held out the bear spray, yelling at the Bear to let him know we were there. I believe he saved us. It was quite a scene; luckily, I captured a part of it on video. One lady even dropped her phone amid the scare. As we were hiding in the bushes, the bear walked down the beach and back into the woods, giving us the safety to return to our beach.

Matthew and I quickly returned to Swiftcurrent Lake and decided to spend the day on the beach in front of the mini glacier hotel, swimming and sunbathing, which was relaxing and refreshing. We went into the mini glacier hotel for a yummy hamburger dinner at the bar — which Matthew treated me to. It was a bit of a celebration for our last day in Glacier. That hotel is a gem. We returned to our campground, had some ice cream from the café (mike), and sat around Matthews’s fire while talking to several of the Great Divide walkers; one of them, Erik, had just completed the entire GDMBR walk. He had started at the southern border in Mexico in April. It was a lively discussion, including our two new additions to the campsite, Peter and Erica, who were just embarking on nine days of the GDMB R hike. Matthew and I packed her bags for tomorrow, knowing we had to head off early to begin our trek back home.

Many Glacier Hotel (simply lovely)

August 18 (Day 27): 56 miles riding – Many Glacier campgrounds in Glacier NP to Arledge home in Columbia Falls, Montana

We were out of our campground by 7 AM, wishing Erica and Peter safe travels on their 9-day trek, and rode to the mini glacier hotel for a coffee and English egg McMuffin breakfast. It was cold for a change, so that hit the spot; we sat on the balcony and admired the sunrise as it warmed up Swiftcurrent Lake and formally bid farewell to the mini glacier area. What a fantastic place! The wildflowers were abounding almost everywhere, and the glacial mountain lakes were strikingly beautiful.

It was a cool ride to Saint Mary’s, where we checked into the visitor center to board our bus to Logan Pass. Everything went well, and we connected with a bus to Logan pass almost immediately (free). Again, at Logan Pass, we immediately caught another bus down the mountain and enjoyed the ride as we watched our ascent go by through a nice window picture while someone else was doing all the work. It was an excellent way to end the trip. We ended up at Apgar Village, where we knew we had to have a full meal to make it to John’s house, which was still about 30 or 35 miles away. Had a nice fish and chips (Matt) and chicken wrap (Mike) lunch with french fries and a huge glass of iced Diet Coke. Perfect.

We decided to swim in Lake McDonald before leaving, as the lake was friendly, warm, and crystal clear. And it was HOT out. Refreshed and ready to go, we boarded our bikes and headed into a 94° heat storm as we came down the valley into the Whitefish area. It was a long and hot ride, broken up by a stop at the gas station for an iced tea and cold water. We called John at the “10 commandments corner” about 10 miles from his house and got good directions to avoid the busy highway (and prayers for our salvation – lol).

It had to be 6:30 pm or later when we finally arrived at John and Holly’s beautiful home situated on a wide open hayfield looking straight up at the towering Columbia Mountain with hardly anything blocking the view. It was almost too good to be true. John generously gave us access to his shiny Ford rapture truck (which Matthew LOVED) and screaming internet service like we had not seen in a month. It was pretty much everything we could’ve dreamed of: hot showers, huge towels, ice-cold drinks in the refrigerators, a game room full of toys, and very comfortable sleeping quarters. It was a shock to both of us to suddenly be in such surroundings after sleeping for almost 30 days straight on the ground. We enjoyed a couple of cold drinks and an especially long shower (thanks, John) and then headed into town in John’s bright blue turbo-charged truck for “gun site,” a local restaurant with live entertainment.

I had a juicy hamburger with blue cheese sitting outside in a very comfortable environment, and Matthew had a fried catfish sandwich and a cold IPA. We relaxed and reflected before walking down a few doors for ice cream and then headed home in our blue spaceship. A funny note is that we met two gals outside the ice cream store from California (on vacation) who reveled hearing about our outdoor adventure. It occurred to me that they might have wondered about the authenticity of it all when we drove off in John’s truck. Ha ha ha. Regardless, it was a very appropriate ending to a trip that was way better than we could have dreamed. God truly answered 1000 prayers!

Our respite in Columbia Falls, Montana

August 19 (Day 28): 22 miles riding – Arledge home in Columbia Falls, Montana to Whitefish Amtrak station

The morning started wonderfully as I got my first listen to my daily prayer app on my phone (Pray-As-You-Go) in a month. It was a special moment to be in the Arledge living room watching the sunrise over Columbia Mountain as the word of God was read to me about loving the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and soul. As the sun came over the ridge peeking into my body, I felt God‘s love washing through me as I reflected on the month Matthew and I had together. There was so much around this trip that was weighing heavily on my heart over the last year, with the hope and prayers of our ability to pull it off and connect in nature in a way that would make a difference in our relationship as father and son. God answered those prayers in ways I never imagined possible. And right then, I felt his presence with me as the sun was first shining into my soul, as my prayer app was speaking the verses about loving God above all else in our life. That was a moment I will not soon forget. I’d be lying to say I did not have many anxieties about returning to life back home with all that was there when we left. But in this special moment, I was comforted by God‘s word to love him first. We’ve kind of pushed aside our struggles with this trip, as we just had to focus each day on the task at hand and appreciate the beauty of God‘s creation as we rode.

All praise and glory to you God.

My words are not expressing it well right now, but it all makes sense as I saw the warmth of God’s light come into that room and fill me with joy and a desire to love him above all else. That is my hope and prayer for Matthew that he would learn to love God above all else. When we get to heaven, we will see that everything else pales in comparison.

Our ride to Whitefish was hot (still in the 90s) and long (22 miles) as we rode into the afternoon heat. Our freshly cleaned bodies and clothes were soon soaked again in sweat. We repeated our “Piggyback BBQ” dinner (just as good the 2nd time) before entering the Amtrak station and loading our bikes onto the luggage car for Seattle. We slept well in our “coach” seats and woke up in Seattle without a place to stay for the night (1st time on our trip)…

August 20 (Day 29): 4 miles — Seattle Amtrak station to Anne Thomas’ home in Seattle

On Amtrak and headed home!

We made it safely onto our “coach” seats and slept reasonably well after our Piggyback” hamburger extravaganza dinner in Whitefish (best hamburgers). Time to process the trip and reflect on God’s amazing care of our many needs… including Anne Thomas’ (backroads friend) offering to put us up in Seattle for the night … Before we knew it, we pulled into Seattle station without knowing where we would stay tonight. Anne left us an option, but Mike is still struggling with whether that is the right thing to do…

We got the bikes back in order and rode off to Pike’s Market Place for an INCREDIBLE pressed “deli” sandwich ($8) — then rode steep hills (in my zero sandals) up and over the mountain of Seattle to the Lake Washington side, where we had a text exchange with Ann Thomas (from our Backroads tour in Santa Fe) about the lack of campsites in the area.

Anne insisted that we drop in:

“See you around 4. We can assess the larder then and figure out if we need anything. I will be interested to hear what route you will be riding to get here. Be careful of traffic! I’m happy to pick you up.”

August 21 (Day 30): 4 miles from Seattle Amtrak station to Emeryville station to HOME!

By the time we left the following day, I would be referring to our stay with Anne as “the Seattle Miracle”! She served us a perfect dinner of hors d’oeuvres; fresh sockeye salmon (which Matthew BBQ’d perfectly), fresh potatoes & broccoli, with cookies and ice cream for dessert. She repeated it all the following day when we woke up to eggs, toast, yogurt, fresh berries, and a rich cup of coffee in a nice porcelain cup. It was amazing. Her hospitality was generous, and her place was beautifully situated (and architected) overlooking Lake Washington as we gazed upon the many boats of all kinds crossing the Lake. As I told Anne, it was a fitting end to an incredible trip, indeed the cherry and whipped cream to top it all off. A very fitting final visit from our guardian trail angels on our journey.

Thank you, Anne.

The train ride from Seattle went too fast … It was a blur.

Seriously.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

SUMMARY:

Miles rode (or hiked): 719 (~25/day)

Mike’s lessons learned:

  1. Review the Trello.com checklist(s) the night before we leave. Wow, I can’t believe I missed this… but we were so overwhelmed getting bikes equipped and boxed that last night that it slipped right by… things like my sunglasses, first aid kit, cup handle, and more were left in the garage…
  2. Get bikes “boxed” a day or two before There were too many questions the night before
  3. Don’t buy camp fuel until arrival (can’t ship it).
  4. Bring a good razor and shaving cream. And more dental floss.
  5. Order Harmony-type food earlier (it was a good buy, but I had to ship it ahead – it arrived late).
  6. Needed a long sleeve riding shirt (Matt had a white one). The riding jersey worked, but too much sun on the arms. Most riding the entire length of the divide had long sleeves.
  7. You only need two pairs of socks (riding) & 1 pair of riding shorts (with liner). Thanks, Laura
  8. Don’t leave out the air bag for my air mattress (that blows it up). I ran out of air each day…
  9. Bring postcards (or something similar…) to leave as thank you notes to our many angels.
  10. Too many warm clothes (gloves and leg warmers especially) — mailed them home… just needed the puffy + rain jacket.
  11. Bring Via coffee + Mocha cappuccino (the extra touch really helps in the morning)
  12. Next time, take Amtrak home (again); the perfect way to step back into life (it took three days…)
  13. WTB (Wilderness Trail Bars) on my 1991 Specialized Stump Jumper with bar end shifter are great for road riding. I need to change that on the next trip – waaaaaay too much weight of my body leaning forward onto the handlebars. I was totally envious of Matthew’s Jones Bars – which kept him upright and weight off his hands. If I hadn’t had good padded riding gloves, I could not have done it, but it still beat up my hands.
  14. Panniers worked, and I could do it again, but very difficult pushing up the hills. I could not get next to my bike to push (I bumped the panniers…). Again, very envious of Matthew’s on-frame packs. Smart. But my big question is how I fit my camp chair with on-frame packs. Ha.
  15. I need a new bike! lol.

Mike’s MVP list:

  1. Riding gloves (my hands got hammered with the washboard roads, and they saved me)
  2. Fold-up chair (my saving grace at camp – Helinox)
  3. Zero sandals (saved my back?)
  4. REI long pants (lightweight, dry in a minute, protection from mosquitos, wore every day)
  5. Running shorts (felt great after riding; became swimming & camp shorts)
  6. Wired earphones – book on audible (Hemmingway’s “A Moving Feast”)
  7. Chomps (The only food I did not get tired of)
  8. Voile straps (thank you, Laura – great story about using them to repel bikes off a mountain…)
  9. Oil & clean the chain daily (not one mechanical issue)
  10. Apple air tags (the best $30 investment we made)
  11. New tires (not one flat – AYKM)
  12. Trello board (for organization and planning, I can’t imagine doing it without Trello)
  13. A long nylon cord for hanging out laundry each night (I used the Ursack cord)
  14. Brooks saddle (yes, yes, YES!)
  15. SPOT GPS tracking device – worked perfectly. Marla got it every night. Peace of mind.
  16. Our guardian trail angels! 🙂

18. Tides of Evidence

“I can see how it might be possible for a man to look down upon the Earth and be an atheist, but I cannot conceive how a man could look up into the heavens and say there is no God.”
-Abraham Lincoln

One of my favorite parts of our many trips to Baja over the years was spending an entire day on the beach watching the ebb and flow of the tide. There is nothing like it for absolute rest and relaxation. San Felipe, Mexico is one of the more glorious spots for this leisurely activity. It has one of the most significant tidal flows in the world, which can expose up to a kilometer of bare sand at low tide due in part to the Colorado River delta to the north.

We would take our beach chairs out to the water’s edge at the bottom of the low tide and then sit and soak in the warm Baja sun as the ripples of the incoming tide slowly crept back in. The goal was to test the elements of nature to see how long we could stay seated in our beach chairs until the incoming waves finally pushed us over. Of course, the cold beer helped us stay hydrated amid this taxing ordeal.

The tidal chart for surfers

For most of my life, I have studied the tides at my favorite surf spots in search of good waves to ride. Aside from the size of the incoming swell, nothing impacts the quality of the surf as much as the tide.  The tidal charts (or tide tables) act as a surfer’s compass for locating good surf.

To briefly explain, there are four tidal flows every twenty-four hours (two “high” tides and two “low” tides) due to the rotation of the Earth. These four tidal conditions can have a startling impact on the quality of the waves. For example, Steamer Lane (Santa Cruz) in winter is often best when the tide is coming back in following a “low” tide. Even better if that incoming tide follows a “minus” low tide, which is when the low tide dips below 0.0 feet (like the example above at 8:27 am, -0.4 ft.).

However, at San Onofre (San Clemente), it is all about the south swells that sweep up the coast in the summer at a high tide. Classic San Onofre peaks roll in at Old Man’s that allow you to go left or right on either the incoming or outgoing side of that high tide (from 2 pm to 6 pm above).

The Miracle of the Tides

One of the innumerable examples God has given us to authenticate the wonder of his creation is the daily rhythm of our tides. It is astonishing to contemplate how it all works. Our tides are a demonstration of the miracle of God’s intelligent creation.

With 71% of planet Earth covered in water, we know that high and low tides are caused by the gravitational pull between the Earth and the moon. Yet, this becomes insanely complex when you consider the impact of a rotating planet, gravity, the pull of the sun, the effect of weather, and the orchestration of tidal flows around our seven continents.

Considering our moon alone makes it hard to argue against a miracle. Earth is the only planet in our solar system that has a single moon that happens to be the largest moon by far (relative to Earth’s size). Our moon is the perfect size and distance from Earth (and the sun) to enable the tidal flow to work.

Eric Metaxes sums it up well in his book Miracles:

“The moon’s considerable gravity gives our oceans their ebbing and flowing tides. If the moon were slightly bigger, it would cause our tides to be much more extreme since a larger moon would exert that much more gravitational pull. With one-hundred-foot tides, there could be no coastal cities or towns or villages. If the moon were slightly smaller and had less gravitational pull, the tides would be insufficient to cleanse coastal seawater and replenish its nutrients. If the moon were any size other than its size, life as we know it wouldn’t exist.”(1)

As Abraham Lincoln acknowledged, it all points a finger to God.

Experiencing Heaven.

If you ask a Christian to provide evidence beyond the tides that there is a God (and, thereby, heaven), they will likely point you to Jesus and the miraculous powers he demonstrated in his brief life on Earth. That could include the substantiation of his resurrection from the dead. They might also argue that the Old Testament prophets told of his coming hundreds of years before his birth. They could even point to the proof of lives that have been dramatically changed by Jesus. To me, that is the most powerful of all—to see how Jesus can change a human heart. I’ve got a friend whose life has been changed enormously by getting to know who Jesus is. He went from jail to Jesus and has never looked back!

I want to address a different kind of evidence that does not get attention. There is an abundance of published books available today about people who claim to have experienced a journey to heaven and back, possibly offering a glimpse of what God has in store for us. 

Clearly, we are stepping outside the Bible by looking at these stories. I have read most books published on this subject.(2) Some of my favorites I have read multiple times. A few popular books have been released as major motion pictures. There are several of these books that I don’t recommend. Only God can truly judge the authenticity of what these people have written about heaven.

I view these stories as fiction, like reading a novel where you can let your mind go about what might be possible. In each one, the author is adamant they did catch a glimpse of heaven. There is no way to authenticate these experiences, although many of them do not stray far from what Scripture says about heaven. They all speak to a world beyond our most incredulous thoughts of what heaven might be like. In almost every story, the author felt such an overwhelming sense of love and peace and joy (and more!) in heaven, that they did not want to return to their Earthly home. What they experienced was far more significant. They were home, and they wanted to stay there.

I want to review a couple of these stories to open our eyes to what might be possible. Let your imagination run with this. The point is to envision what eternity might be like.

Each story, for me, has been a page-burner to find out what kind of experience the author had and how it impacted the life they were now living on Earth. All of them were dramatically changed as a result of their experience. It was as if they were allowed to see “the end” and start over with a renewed perspective. The experience turned their bucket list upside down. Reading each personal account has changed me. It is God’s mystery that these experiences happen to a select few.

90 Minutes in Heaven(3) was the first book (also a movie) that I stumbled across during a family vacation at the beach. It is the story of Don Piper, a Texas pastor, who died in a horrific car crash on January 18, 1989. Paramedics immediately arrived on the scene, found no pulse, and declared him dead. Piper wrote a powerful account of the next 90 minutes he spent in heaven before returning to Earth.  

His description of heaven impacted me so profoundly that I immediately had Marla and our two kids read it while we were all together on vacation. It was the first time I had read anything with such incredible detail about the experience in heaven. It gave me goosebumps as the author described a “welcoming party” of people he had known and loved on Earth, including his grandfather, great-grandmother, and high school classmates.

Piper admitted that words could not do justice to the experience. It took him years before he spoke in public about the experience.  In his words, “I considered it a sacred secret.”

That story started a passion in me to find more. I found it fascinating and encouraging to read stories of people who had these experiences that changed them forever. All of them spoke about experiencing a love far exceeding anything they had ever known. It was as if they had tasted the truth of their real purpose in life.

A personal favorite is Intra Muros,(3) written by Rebecca Springer in 1898. Rebecca captured a unique atmosphere of life in heaven like no other book I have come across. Published 120 years ago, Springer writes of an experience she had of going to heaven while seriously ill in a care home in Kentville, Illinois.

The author describes in detail the experiences she was given over an extensive period before her return. She never quantifies how long she was there, but I would liken it to 90 days in heaven rather than 90 minutes. In her book, she describes her inability to chronicle the depth and wonder of the experience (unedited):

“I am painfully aware of the fact that I can never paint for others the scenes as they appeared to me during those wonderful days. If I can only dimly show the close linking of the two lives – the mortal with the divine – as they then appeared to me, I may be able to partly tear the veil from the death we so dread and show it to be only an open door into a new and beautiful phase of the life we now live.”

Especially captivating to me was her description later in the book of immersing her body into the water in heaven. Finally, I had an account of people getting wet in heaven! Rebecca constructed an inconceivable image of what it would be like to experience heavenly water and waves. Here is one excerpt where she describes the movement of the waves:

“… as they came and went in ceaseless motion, caught up this sparkling sand and carried it on their crests, like the phosphorescence we sometimes see in the wake of a vessel in mid-ocean.”

This boggled my mind as I imagined how surfing in heaven could go well beyond what reverie my imagination could fabricate. She described the water “in both temperature and density, [as] almost identical with the air.” When going under the water, she quickly realized with a laugh that nothing had changed,

“I could not only breathe, but laugh and talk, see and hear, as naturally under the water as above it.”

And best of all, no toweling off after exiting the water:

“… the moment the air struck my face and hair I realized that I would need no towel or brush. My flesh, my hair, and even my beautiful garments, were soft and dry before as before the water touched them.”

This book sits on my bedstand, and I often read a page at night to let the words sink into my soul before falling asleep. It is a treasure.

Not all of these books are written by Christian authors. I find it even more interesting to hear people voice their experiences without including their knowledge of the Bible. Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife(4) is one example. Eben Alexander, a Jewish faculty member at Harvard Medical School, writes about his near-death experience in a meningitis-induced coma for seven days in 2008.  He was so enthralled by the incident that he used his vast experience as a neurosurgeon to scientifically prove he could not have dreamed of the experience he had going to heaven.

He set out to validate that what happened to him over those seven days was not merely a fabrication of the brain. He concluded that, “… the death of the body and the brain are not the end of consciousness; the human experience continues beyond the grave.” Alexander claimed that the place he went to was so real that it made the life we are living here on Earth like a dream in comparison.

One last book I’ll mention I found when our family was on vacation in Portland, Oregon, spending most of the day at Powell’s bookstore (the largest independent bookstore in the world). At Powell’s you can pick your favorite subject and lose an entire day going through the selection, including many books not available online. After doing my due diligence in the “surfing” section, I wandered over to a section on “heaven” and was overwhelmed by the books to choose from.

“When Will The Heaven Begin?”

I soon was tearing through a book that I could not put down, When Will the Heaven Begin?: This Is Ben Breedlove’s Story by Ally Breedlove.(5)  Ally wrote this book about her older brother, Ben Breedlove, who had lived his entire life on the precipice of death due to a heart condition he was born with.  Ben died at eighteen on Christmas evening after enjoying a remarkable day with his entire family. He knew exactly where he was going.

In this book, Ally speaks to a video Ben had posted on Youtube to chronicle his attraction to heaven.  I gathered my family to watch the video in stunned amazement on the cold cement floor in Powell’s.  Ben tells his story with flip cards, of how he had been waiting for heaven to begin.  On four separate occasions, Ben experienced a cardiac arrest and sampled heaven’s perfect peace.

Ally discovered the video while rummaging through his stuff on Christmas night after his passing.  Watch that video now, and you will see what I mean (~7 minutes).  Ben’s story is one to behold no matter what your beliefs on heaven.  As a vibrant eighteen-year-old boy with a full life, including a girlfriend and loving family, Ben realized what was awaiting him in heaven was even better than the life he had here on Earth. He left the video to comfort his family in case he departed.

These stories paint a striking and consistent picture of heaven as a physical place of indescribable beauty where our bodies are transformed into perfect selves. Any suffering we experience here, no matter how intense, is completely canceled out by the love that awaits us. Those who have tasted it say they no longer fear death—they would rather be there than anywhere else.

Interestingly, each person’s experience of heaven seems to be different, as if God had individually prepared a place for each of them (6).  They all pondered why God had chosen them to have the experience and what to do with it after returning to life on planet Earth.  Most who have written books believe that God gave them these experiences to spread the joy and hope for what awaits us in heaven.

For those who have placed their trust in God, an amazing new place awaits us. As I continue along my path in Silicon Valley, Roger Williams’ words of wisdom at Mount Hermon Family Camp on Lake Tahoe have echoed in my heart about changing the way I live today—for heaven:

“It’s not the end— it’s … the beginning.”

I have lived long enough to realize that suffering in this life is inevitable. There is no avoiding it. Yet, despite our troubles, the Bible teaches that all of it will be forgotten in heaven.

“There will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” –Revelation 21:3-5 (NIV)

Having this great certainty gives me the courage to face the valleys ahead. Ben Breedlove had his share of valleys with his heart condition. Seeing a glimpse of what awaited him gave him the courage to tell the world that he was ready to go.

We must think about heaven now; it will dramatically impact our lives here on Earth. Heaven should be our first and most important priority. It is urgent! We are built for it—it is God’s plan for our life. Staying focused on heaven can transform our life here on Earth. To think otherwise is to take a very short-term view of our existence.

“The heavens declare the glory of God.” -Psalm 19:1 (NIV)

Monitoring the incoming tide in San Felipe, Mexico (circa 1988)

————-Footnotes——–

  1. Miracles: What They Are, Why They Happen, And How They Can Change Your Life by Eric Mataxas
  2. “Contact Mike” at surfingforbalance.com if you would like me to send you a list of books I recommend on heaven.
  3. 90 Minutes in Heaven: A True Story of Death & Life by Don Piper
  4. Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife by Eben Alexander
  5. When Will the Heaven Begin?: This Is Ben Breedlove’s Story by Ally Breedlove
  6. John 14:2-3 (TLB):
    “There are many homes up there where my Father lives, and I am going to prepare them for your coming. When everything is ready, then I will come and get you, so that you can always be with me where I am. “

Author’s Note:

There will be a brief pause before chapter 18 as my son Matthew and I will be on a bicycle tour along the continental divide for the next month or so.

17. Heaven Can’t Wait

“Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.”
-Mark Twain

When I first heard about Steve Jobs’ death, I was in the midst of my marketing gig at Oracle OpenWorld in San Francisco (October 5, 2011). It was our annual pilgrimage to shut down Howard Street, bring in the America’s Cup sailboats, and paint San Francisco Oracle red. We needed a couple of iPods for our booth giveaways, so I escaped the madness of the Moscone Center to walk a few blocks in the warm fall daylight to the Apple store near Union Square. I was navigating rush-hour in the city while enjoying the fresh air, when I was stopped cold at a fortress of candles on the sidewalk surrounding the store entrance. Steve Jobs had just died.

Employees and customers were wandering around like zombies, ruminating over the shocking news. It was as if the store needed to cease operations and digest the depth of it all. I even found myself in a state of denial. The suddenness of his passing hit hard. The iPhone 4s had been announced just a day earlier as swarms of techies were buzzing in like bees to honey for a taste of Apple’s latest innovation. And yet the incongruity was that the architect of it all had vanished. No one could quite grasp it.

Without question, Steve Jobs was one of the most remarkable leaders in the history of Silicon Valley. Suddenly, he was gone at the premature age of fifty-six. It was a sonic boom throughout the industry. Silicon Valley was experiencing a Loma Prieta aftershock like never before. We all had to rethink our world without Steve Jobs.

Walter Isaacson’s enthralling biography Steve Jobs was released just a few weeks later. For me, it was a page burner to delve into Isaacson’s account of his life. Jobs and I were born just a month apart, so I was more than curious to hear his story and better understand his genius. In the words of Isaacson, Jobs was the “ultimate icon of inventiveness and applied imagination.(1) He combined artistic creativity with technological innovation to upend the computer industry forever.

Steve Jobs was known to “think differently.” His inventions completely transformed computer design and the user interface. To place his impact into a surfing context would be to compare the influence Bob Simmons had on lightweight surfboard design in the 1940s.(2) Simmons was the first to introduce lightweight foam and fiberglass into surfboard design. Prior to that, everyone was riding 100-pound redwood planks. Nobody at that time could have predicted the shortboard revolution that followed as a result of Simmons’ ingenuity. Surfing was changed forever.

Steve Jobs and the iPhone 11 Pro
(image by unsplash.com)

I was fascinated with how Steve Jobs’ career paralleled the explosive growth of Silicon Valley following the invention of the personal computer (PC). The story of his emergence from the Los Altos garage to co-founding Apple Computers was like reading a Stephen Ambrose war epic on how the battle of Silicon Valley was won. Even his high school days captivated me, including the pranks he orchestrated (I could relate!). Yet, for all those days I spent surfing in high school, Steve was fiddling with computers in his garage, preparing to change the world.

As I devoured Isaacson’s narrative, there was an element of Steve Jobs’ personality that made me uncomfortable and deeply stirred my concern for who he was at the core. At times, Jobs could be a sociopathic monster in his handling of people who seemed to get in the way of where he was trying to go. His unruly antics were well-documented. Some of the stories of him thrashing his people who did not deliver on his expectations were horrific. I think most would agree that he reached the top of the mountain, but it came at an agonizing price to many who worked alongside him. It was a fascinating character study.

Yet, his list of accomplishments were unequaled. A short list of new product introductions in thirty years at Apple speaks to his genius:

  • Apple I, 1976 (Apple II, 1977)
  • Macintosh, 1984
  • iMac, 1998
  • iPod, 2001
  • iTunes, 2003
  • iPhone, 2007
  • iPad, 2010

Despite all this, as I read Isaacson’s account, I could not help but wonder: Was it worth it? At what price did Steve Jobs attain this level of notoriety? How might God judge him? After reading the coming-of-age memoir of Lisa Brennan-Jobs (Small Fry), who was Steve Jobs’ first child, the legacy of his behavior began to show through. Although he was not always willing to admit that she was his daughter, her view of life with him provided insight into the anxieties of coming into the world as an inconvenience to her success-obsessed father. It was a provocative read for all of us to see the stardom Jobs achieved through the eyes of a child.

Steve Jobs did not appear concerned about God. The treasures in heaven did not appear to be on his radar. He experienced acclaim beyond what anyone could have imagined in his quest to deliver products that changed the world.

As Apple became the world’s first company to record a market capitalization of $1 trillion in 2018, much of the credit surely goes to Steve Jobs. According to our world’s definition of success, he did come out on top.

Yet, I would like to propose that there is another side to that coin. What if we evaluate a person’s life with a different standard? What if everything we do here in this life on planet earth has an eternal value? Would that change the way we all view our life today?

Jesus came to tell us that everything we do in this life really matters once we get to heaven.(3) As good as we know heaven will be, there is one significant point that is missing in that discussion: Heaven does not begin when you die—it begins right now. Today.  To put it in Silicon Valley vernacular, it is happening in real-time as you read this. Heaven can’t wait!

Everything We Do in This Life Matters

If your aim is to build a life of enduring significance, this is a momentous point. I lived most of my life without truly grasping it. Having a vision of my future in heaven has rearranged my priorities and clarified my sense of identity. Eternity is motivating me to take this life very seriously. There is a spiritual battle going on today in our world where eternal issues are at stake. The temptation of the evil one is to lure us into complacency to think that it does not matter how you live this life. That is a lie—don’t believe it. What happens in Las Vegas does not truly stay in Las Vegas!

Every day we live on this earth is impacting our life in heaven forever. 

According to research, we can spend up to 90,000 hours at work in our lifetime.(4) In Silicon Valley, that is a grossly conservative estimate based on a 40-hour work week (Ha!). Does it matter how we spend that time? The race I had been running was to do whatever it took in those 90,000 hours to maximize my income so I could hopefully cash out early and start enjoying life. The winners were the ones crossing that line first.

Jesus has a different take. He made it clear that there is a direct connection between what you do in those 90,000 hours and the life you spend in paradise.

 “For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done,” (Matthew 16:27, NIV, emphasis mine).

When we get to heaven, Jesus is telling us that we will be repaid according to how we have lived our life on earth. Even though we are in heaven, and our joy is complete, we will have rewards waiting for us when we arrive. This promise is not an isolated incident in the Bible. There are many examples of Jesus telling us that what we are doing here on earth really matters once we get to Heaven. It is a recurring theme in the New Testament:

  • “Yes, leap for joy! For you will have a great reward awaiting you in heaven,”
    (Luke 6:23,TLB, emphasis mine).
  • “If you want to be perfect, go and sell everything you have and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven,”
    (Matthew 19:21, TLB, emphasis mine).
  • “Be very glad! for a tremendous reward awaits you up in heaven,”
    (Matthew 5:12, TLB, emphasis mine).

Statements like “leap for joy” and “be very glad” are signs that this topic gets special attention from God. He is keeping track of us as we live our life here on earth. Eventually (when we cross over into heaven), He will reward us for how well we’ve done.

This is not about doing good works on earth in order to get to heaven. The Bible is explicit about that. Going to Heaven is strictly an act of faith—not an act of works. The apostle Paul makes this point quite powerfully throughout the book of Romans in the New Testament.(5) One of the more renowned verses in all of the Bible, which even shows up on the bottom of my In-N-Out vanilla shake cup, states this quite clearly:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life,” (John 3:16, NIV).

It is important to note that this is also not about winners and losers. We are already in heaven, for crying out loud. Everyone will be a winner! But Jesus is clear that there will be recompense waiting when we get there.

Several books have been written on this topic.  One of my favorites is Bruce Wilkinson’s A Life God Rewards, Why Everything You Do Today Matters Forever, which hits it head on. It’s a small book and a quick read.

Wilkinson explains that our beliefs (faith) are what unlock the door to our eternal life in heaven. If we believe that Jesus is who He said He is, we will get to heaven. That is what Wilkinson calls having faith. However, our behaviors are what unlock the door to rewards and determine how we will spend eternity. It is our behavior on earth that will impact the rewards we receive when we get to heaven. And by the way, that part lasts forever. I will admit that when I look at how fast my life here on earth has flown by, this forever part has garnered my attention!

So, what will these rewards in heaven be? What might they look like?

The Greek root of the word rewards is misthos, which translates to “wages.” Jesus appears to be telling us that we are going to get paid for our time here on earth, and that it will have unending value in heaven. It’s almost as if we have a savings account for our good behavior on earth that will pay out when we get to heaven. And Jesus is the one who will sign the check.

In spite of my studies in this area, I am far from speculating what those heavenly rewards could mean. Knowing what I do about Jesus, I feel pretty confident they will be specific to each person and well worth the effort. I like the view American Pastor John MacArthur, Jr. has on it:

“There will be varying degrees of reward in heaven. That shouldn’t surprise us: There are varying degrees of giftedness even here on earth.”

This is having an impact on me now. I am envisioning that a secluded surfing spot with warm water and perfect waves just might be a possibility in heaven. Why not?

As for the behavior God is looking for, Jesus was always on message. It boiled down to one word: love.(6) It seems so simple. It is what the world needs a lot more of today.

The Impact on Silicon Valley

These words rock the life we are living here in Silicon Valley. Jesus came to tell us there is something much greater awaiting in heaven. To put it in surfing terminology, we must learn to paddle against the incoming tide. When I am out at Steamer Lane on a big day the constant push of powerful swells coming toward shore requires constant paddling just to maintain my position in the lineup. Everything around me is going the other way.

In the final few paragraphs of Isaacson’s book (Chapter 42; Legacy: The Brightest Heaven of Invention), Steve Jobs reflected on his death,

“I’m about fifty-fifty on believing in God.  For most of my life, I’ve felt that there must be more to our existence than meets the eye.  But on the other hand, perhaps it’s like an on-off switch.  Click!  And you’re gone.  Maybe that’s why I never liked to put on-off switches on Apple devices.”

Our life truly is a mist that appears briefly, and then quickly fades.(7) I want heaven to be proud of the life I lived here on earth. There will be no penalties—we will be in heaven. Yet, the work each of us is doing in our life here on earth is helping to construct that mansion that God is building for us in heaven. Nothing is ever lost or wasted with God. Everything we do on earth will build on the everlasting life we spend in heaven. Every day really does matter.

In his book The Real Heaven, What the Bible Actually Says (8), Chip Ingram frames this point with a picture of a dot connected to a line:

Your entire life history on planet earth is represented by a dot, and your eternal life in heaven is represented by a continuous line that has no end. So, the question to ask yourself is whether you are living for the dot or for the line?

I would have to admit that I have lived the majority of my life for the dot. It’s a ton of work to paddle against those currents when the world around me is going the other way. I live a constant battle to stay aligned with the instruction Jesus gives us:

 “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?”
(Matthew 16:26, NIV)

Steve Jobs built an empire that left him on top of the mountain in Silicon Valley. It is hard to argue with the success he achieved. He maximized the dot. You might even think of the $5 billion Apple campus in Cupertino (AKA, “the spaceship”) as an iconic symbol of maximizing that dot. It is even visible from outer space!

Apple Park in Cupertino (2.8 million square feet of floor space and 1-mile in circumference)
(image by unsplash.com)

And yet, Jesus came into this world to redefine true greatness. In His kingdom, the least are seen as the greatest. The meek inherit the earth. The servant outshines the ruler. The first end up last and the last are first.(9) Jesus is telling us to focus on the line with no end. Those treasures will last for an eternity.

Heaven can’t wait. It is happening right now.

Playing Maximus in the movie “Gladiator,” Russell Crowe summed it up well:

“What you do in this life echoes through eternity.” 

—-Footnotes—-

  1. Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. Simon and Schuster: 2011.
  2. Bob Simmons was the “mad scientist” who pioneered lightweight surfboard design in the 1940s in southern California and is often credited as the father of the modern surfboard. As a Cal Tech graduate who worked as a mathematician at Douglas Aircraft, he radically changed surfboard design more than anyone else before or since him. As stated on the Surfing Heritage & Culture Center website, “Bob Simmons was the first person to consciously and purposefully apply hydrodynamic theory to create dynamic lift in surfboards; the first one to use fiberglass and resin to strengthen lighter weight boards; and the first one to actually define a surfboard and describe how it works.” Tragically, Simmons died while surfing Windansea Beach in Lo Jolla on a big day in 1954 at the age of thirty five.

    Dad (Jack B Mulkey) was a friend of Bob’s and often referred to him in his memories of surfing Malibu in the 1940s and 1950s. Dad is riding a 10’9″ Bob Simmons Plywood Foam surfboard (called a “Foam Sandwich”) on the cover of this book. That surfboard was a major breakthrough from the Redwood Planks they had been riding, which could weigh over 100 pounds.
    http://www.legendarysurfers.com/2016/11/bob-simmons-1919-1954.html
  3. Jesus came to tell us that everything we do in this life really matters once we get to heaven:
    1. “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven.” (Luke 6:23, NIV)
    2. “You will have a treasure in heaven,” (Matthew 19:21, NIV).
    3. “You will be blessed… for you shall be repaid at the resurrection,” (Luke 14:14, NIV).
    4. “Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven …” (Matthew 5:12, NIV).
  4. Gettysburg College study: One third of your life is spent at work
    https://www.gettysburg.edu/news/stories?id=79db7b34-630c-4f49-ad32-4ab9ea48e72b
  5. “If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved,” (Romans 10:9, NIV).
  6. “…The Lord our God is the one and only God. And you must love him with all your heart and soul and mind and strength. The second is: ‘You must love others as much as yourself.’ No other commandments are greater than these,” (Mark 12:28-31, TLB).
  7. Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes,” (James 4:14, NIV).
  8. Ingram, Chip. The Real Heaven, What the Bible Actually Says. Baker Books: 2016.
  9. Luke 13:30; Mark 10:31; Matthew 27:64; Matthew 20:16 (all NIV)
  10. Christian Leaders on Eternal Rewards:
  • Charles R. Swindoll: “…He promises a reward. And we can be sure He will keep His promise.”
  • Jonathan Edwards: “There are many mansions in God’s house because heave is intended for various degrees of honor and blessedness.”
  • Charles H. Spurgeon: “Seek secrecy for your good deeds.”
  • Theodore H. Epp: “God is eager to reward us and does everything possible to help us lay up rewards.”
  • John MacArthur Jr.: “There will be varying degrees of reward in heaven. That shouldn’t surprise us: There are varying degrees of giftedness even here on earth.”
  • John Wesley: “God will reward everyone according to his works.”
  • R.C. Sproul: “If a person has been faithful in many things through many years, then he will be acknowledged by His Master, who will say to him, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant… there are at least twenty-five occasions where the New Testament clearly teaches that we will be granted rewards according to our works.”
  • Billy Graham: “… and the work we have done must stand the ultimate test; final exams come at the Judgment Seat of Christ when we receive our rewards.”
  • Martin Luther: “Therefore, he who does good works and guards himself against sin, God will reward.”

Photo credits on unsplash.com:

16. Opening Day in Paradise

“The serious business of heaven is joy.”
-CS Lewis

My dear friend Phil Nicholson used to invite my son and I to join him and his son at the opening day game for the San Francisco 49ers at the now-defunct Candlestick Park. Keep in mind that all other games of the season were second fiddle to opening day. This game was like no other.

The 49ers (and fans) went well beyond the standard football fare on opening day, signifying renewed hope for making it to yet another Super Bowl. Everyone was hyped to cheer the 49ers to victory. It was like going back out on the golf course after a long period of not playing. The memories of those bad shots had been neatly sliced from your brain. A 49er loss on opening day was unthinkable. We looked forward to this game with a special appreciation for the experience we knew to come.

The pre-game tailgate barbecues at Candlestick commenced just after daybreak and were more elaborate than ever, with everyone dressed head to toe in scarlet and gold. The 49er logo was visible everywhere; on cars, tables, banners, flags, chairs, ice chests, napkins, mugs, wine glasses, tattoos, clothes, and more! The air was electric with optimism and excitement as we fired up our Coleman barbecue and pulled the root beer off the ice for the boys. Wandering around the tailgate fixings was like peeking in on an open-air Thanksgiving extravaganza. Roars from the crowd inside the stadium started to mix with the barbecue smoke to create a surreal feeling of something magical about to happen. The 49er energy was palpable.

We caught our first view of the field after crowding through the cement tunnel feeling like sardines in a can. As the darkness turned to light, we surveyed the players warming up on the field in their bleached clean uniforms with brilliant 49er helmets. It was a thing of beauty. We paused to soak it in before moving on to our seats amongst the horde of 49er faithful.

The pre-game ceremony signaled that this was not just another football game. Dignitaries were announced. The U.S. military was honored. Retired 49er players were paraded onto the field. History was celebrated. Opening day was unique; it was a new beginning.

It all climaxed in an unfurling of a ginormous American flag covering the entire field as we roared our national anthem with hats placed over our hearts. Four Blue Angel jets swept in for a fly-by at the climax of “the home of the free and the land of the brave”. I was overwhelmed with patriotic fervor that dampened my eyes as the crowd of sixty thousand cheered in praise of the symbolism of our freedom. The 49er players then exploded from the black tunnel to storm onto the field amongst a storm of more fireworks and patriotic screaming. I was already hoarse, and the game had not even started!

Bring on more root beer—it’s game time!

What if God gives us earthly pleasures like this to provide a sampling of the experiences that awaits us in heaven? To stand in Candlestick Park and feel the intense emotion of that crowd as the Blue Angels flew by could be a prelude to exactly that. The Bible describes hearing the voices of hundreds of thousands of angels worshipping God in heaven (1). It is hard to imagine it being any better than that 49er crowd, but the Bible tells us that what God has in store for us is beyond our wildest dreams. This life with God will satiate every desire we have. Our joy will be exponentially amplified. It is what we were created for. We will finally be home. I envision having my dream day in the lineup at San Onofre with best friends and family joining in. Maybe Roy Lambertson’s description of me “hanging ten and giving a “hang loose” hand signal in the tube” is not so far off after all.

I have read more books about heaven than I want to admit to in attempting to understand what awaits us there. The Bible presents that “its brilliance was like a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal” (2). Yet the real emphasis of heaven is not about heaven’s beauty, but on joy. This joy will overwhelm us to the point that we forget our troubles here on earth. In heaven, everything will be new (3). Earthly pleasures like the opening day festivities of the 49ers game are simply a foretaste of the heavenly joys that await us there. As amazing as that day was, our “opening day” in heaven will make it seem like a day at the DMV.

Seriously.

Opening Day in Heaven

In the Bible, Jesus Christ is the sole authority on the topic of heaven. He is the only person in the history of humanity who came from heaven to live on earth and tell us about what awaited us there. Jesus had a lot to say about heaven. In the book of Matthew alone, He spoke of heaven more than any other person in the Bible. His message was straightforward: Fix your eyes not on the earthly treasures around you, but on the riches that await you in heaven (4). In His short three-year ministry on earth, Jesus was like an army recruit who had memorized the soldier’s creed. He never wavered on that message.

One could argue that God’s purpose in sending Jesus to earth was to tell the world about heaven. Whether or not you believe Jesus is who He said He was (the Son of God), it is fascinating to look closely at what He said about heaven. If we narrow down to His final three days on earth, Jesus was clear as an ear-piercing bell on two things about heaven.

First was that He is preparing a specific place for us in heaven (5). When we finally do get there, Jesus will have our home all built and ready to move in. Some translations use the word “mansion.” I like that picture. As soon as it is ready, Jesus told the disciples He would come to take them there. Maybe my mansion will have an outdoor shower to rinse the sand off from surfing!

The Last Supper
(image by Gordon Johnson – Pixaby)

When Jesus said this, He was meeting with His disciples for their final meal together (known as The Last Supper). He was giving the twelve disciples their final marching orders. In three days, He would be crucified on the cross.

To place some context around this, picture the 49er players assembled in the locker room preparing for the final game of their season. Imagine that you are the head coach, and you have announced that you are retiring after this final game. This is your last chance to address the players. What would you say to them? Surely a strategy discussion about how to win the game is in order. A few comments about key plays they need to make. Probably remind them that this is your last game. That would motivate them.

The words Jesus spoke were nothing short of astounding considering the circumstances. The disciples would be carrying the torch forward to spread Christianity to all of planet earth. Not one of the millions of Christian churches worldwide had been built yet. This was ground zero for Christianity. Once Jesus died, the future of Christianity rested on these twelve men.

Yet Jesus did not use the time to review the blueprint on how to advance Christianity after He was gone. He did not explain how they should position His departure. Instead, He left the football field entirely and simply told them He was preparing a place for them in heaven. He gave the disciples a vision of hope for their future.

In hindsight, it seems to have been a compelling play call (6).

The second noteworthy thing that Jesus said during His final hours was to declare that heaven would be paradise:

“Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43, NIV).

In almost the very last words Jesus spoke before His death on the cross, He declared that heaven would be a perfect place. Jesus spoke these words to a dying thief who was hanging on a cross next to him.  As the thief accepted that Jesus was who He said He was, the thief was assured by Jesus that he would be joining him there. In paradise. Imagine how the thief felt to hear that from Jesus!

Jesus is crystal clear that what awaits us in heaven is a real, physical place that will be a Shangri-La compared to what we know here on earth. A paradise for me has a connotation around surfing, with warm water, perfect waves, a white sandy beach, and of course, palm trees full of coconuts to keep me nourished. Why not? My heavenly vision may seem outlandish, but only because we consider it from our earthly perspective. What awaits us there is beyond what we can imagine. It will be a utopia!

Jesus had the foresight to see that giving the disciples a clear view of their future home in heaven would provide them the strength to endure the difficult times ahead. The promise of paradise was the perfect motivator to get them to persevere. Amid all the muck we see around us in the world today, it is exactly what we need as well.

The final score of the 49ers game will not matter when we get to heaven. An opening day win is an earthly treasure. In heaven, we will be perfect in every way; physically, morally, and in our knowledge. We will have new bodies free from the pain, death, and decay of this present world (7). And yet, amazingly, we will be the person we are today. Our memories of who we are, what we have done, and who we knew in our life on earth will not fade. The Bible assures us that Jesus will transform our lowly bodies to be like His glorious one (8). It will all be paradise in the end.

I can’t wait to paddle out.


Footnotes:

  1. Revelation 5:11-12 (NIV):
    “Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands and ten thousand times ten thousand.”
  2. Revelation 21:10-11 (NIV):
    “And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal.”
  3. Revelation 21:5 (NIV):
    “He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
  4. Matthew 6:19-21 (NIV):
    “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
  5. John 14:1-3 (TLB):
    “Let not your heart be troubled. You are trusting God, now trust in me. There are many homes up there where my Father lives, and I am going to prepare them for your coming. When everything is ready, then I will come and get you, so that you can always be with me where I am. If this weren’t so, I would tell you plainly.”
  6. Christianity is the largest religious group in the world, and in 2020 there were about 2.6 billion adherents globally. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Major_religious_groups)
  7. I have lived long enough to realize that suffering in this life is inevitable. The Bible does not claim our avoiding it once we become a Christian. And yet, despite our troubles, the Bible teaches that all of it will be forgotten in heaven. Having this great certainty gives me the courage to face the valleys ahead.

    “He will wipe away all tears from their eyes, and there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying, nor pain. All of that has gone forever.” (Revelation 21:4 TLB).
  8. Philippians 3:20-21 (NIV)
    “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.”