“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 shiftin 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 ridingthe 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!
“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).
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!”.
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!
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).
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.
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…
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.
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!
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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 (firstname.lastname@example.org) — 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.
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.
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!
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.
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…
Get bikes “boxed” a day or two before There were too many questions the night before
Don’t buy camp fuel until arrival (can’t ship it).
Bring a good razor and shaving cream. And more dental floss.
Order Harmony-type food earlier (it was a good buy, but I had to ship it ahead – it arrived late).
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.
You only need two pairs of socks (riding) & 1 pair of riding shorts (with liner). Thanks, Laura
Don’t leave out the air bag for my air mattress (that blows it up). I ran out of air each day…
Bring postcards (or something similar…) to leave as thank you notes to our many angels.
Too many warm clothes (gloves and leg warmers especially) — mailed them home… just needed the puffy + rain jacket.
Bring Via coffee + Mocha cappuccino (the extra touch really helps in the morning)
Next time, take Amtrak home (again); the perfect way to step back into life (it took three days…)
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.
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.
I need a new bike! lol.
Mike’s MVP list:
Riding gloves (my hands got hammered with the washboard roads, and they saved me)
Fold-up chair (my saving grace at camp – Helinox)
Zero sandals (saved my back?)
REI long pants (lightweight, dry in a minute, protection from mosquitos, wore every day)
Running shorts (felt great after riding; became swimming & camp shorts)
Wired earphones – book on audible (Hemmingway’s “A Moving Feast”)
Chomps (The only food I did not get tired of)
Voile straps (thank you, Laura – great story about using them to repel bikes off a mountain…)
Oil & clean the chain daily (not one mechanical issue)
Apple air tags (the best $30 investment we made)
New tires (not one flat – AYKM)
Trello board (for organization and planning, I can’t imagine doing it without Trello)
A long nylon cord for hanging out laundry each night (I used the Ursack cord)
Brooks saddle (yes, yes, YES!)
SPOT GPS tracking device – worked perfectly. Marla got it every night. Peace of mind.
When I think of slowing down, I am reminded of surfing trips in the 80s to Punta Pequeña in Baja California with good friends John Chick, Eddie Means, John Park, and Peter Vanderburg. As my career was ramping up, those trips taught me to take my foot off the gas pedal and listen within.
Punta Pequeña is a dream of a surfing destination—especially if you catch a solid south swell. It is the kind of surfing spot I imagine in heaven, composed of a near-perfectly sculpted series of right points that corral south swells as good as anywhere on the California coast.
It was as if Michelangelo himself had carved out the shallow volcanic rock shelf for a regular foot surfer riding a yellow Hanifin Bananafin longboard. I could not wipe the smile off my face the entire time we were there. The quality of the wave and the length of the ride was unequaled in my book. It is rumored that you can ride over one kilometer on a really big day. Best of all, we were removed entirely from the SoCal mainstream surfing scene. A crowd of surfers in the water was not something we had concern over.
However, we did have concerns about getting there, which made it all the more appealing. Punta Pequeña was a thousand miles from nowhere, in one of the more remote and inaccessible regions of Baja California. The real McCoy started after a two-day adventure on the rugged-but-paved Baja Mexico Highway 1, which for safety reasons, we never drove at night.
After 900 or so miles of slugging it out on the pot-hole-ridden asphalt segment, a clandestine Baja-dusty dirt road appeared out of nowhere to lead us onto the final exam for our driving odyssey. Sixty miles of ungraded rocky, dusty, and at times, washboard dirt and sand led directly west to the sleepy fishing village of San Juanico on the Pacific Ocean.
Unless you were driving an army tank, this part was never a given, even if you had made it before. It was a full-on assault that included removing parts of your car if they got in the way. To this day, I lay claim to one of the greatest driving achievements in modern surfing history with my 1983 VW Diesel Rabbit. John Park and I almost lost our silver fillings on the washboard and ended up passing out mucho dinero to the local ranchers to tow us through the quicksand section. When we pulled onto the bluff at Punta Pequeña in the Rabbit with a mere twelve inches of ground clearance, the other surfers looked at us like we had just landed Apollo 13. It had been a new car when we left, but it aged 20 years on that trip!
Once camp was established, life at Punta Pequeña settled into a singular focus on surfing. Everything we did was in preparation for that next session in the water. If the surf dropped, we had plenty to keep us busy; but hardly ten minutes went by without a glance at the waves to see if conditions were changing.
If you weren’t out surfing, you were sitting in a beach chair drinking beer, scientifically analyzing the tide and wind conditions as the sun lazed across the powder blue Baja sky. The only responsible duty was rotating the twenty cases of beer into the four ice chests to ensure we had cold brew for the entire trip. It was not as easy as it sounds! Extended games of Bocci ball down the vast, endless beach were the usual diversion in the afternoon if the surf had blown out. But we could only wander a mile or so away for fear the beer would run out, and we suffer dehydration before making it back to base camp. That could impact the next surfing session.
Looking back on those trips today, I realize that my ability to slow down was about the absolute freedom I experienced from being so wholly removed from civilized interruptions in my life. There were zero connections to the outside world. My physical body was at peace. It was similar to what backpackers experience on an extended trip into the wilderness. We were unencumbered and free, which bonded us with our surroundings. The vast nothingness of the environment soothed my soul in a way I can only dream about today. I could sit in my beach chair and gaze down upon the endless spit of land as far as the eye could see. It was beautiful beyond words. Those trips fed my soul in ways only God can explain.
I thirst for that same level of contentedness today.
Going Too Fast Fast forward to Silicon Valley forty years later: The world is moving too fast. Our vision of the “leisure society” has been reduced to rubble by the explosive growth of computers. The chasm from the slow pace of Punta Pequeña life in the 80s is looking like the grand canyon. We are losing our ability to set aside time to be in peace and rest our souls. Busyness has consumed our lives, and information technology is bombarding us with an incessant need to be distracted by our devices instead of focusing in the present moment. Deep down, we know it is too much for our human psyche to make sense of.
There is a dichotomy here. I love doing so much in so little time with the technology we have today; I’d be lying to tell you otherwise. I have an iPhone and I use it constantly. I can check the surf, tide tables, traffic conditions, and view a live camera of Steamer Lane, all with a finger tap on my phone while I’m shopping from my electronic grocery list at Trader Joe’s.
Like the groceries, it comes at a cost; but unlike the groceries, it’s costing us our lives.
Dr. Richard Swenson, the author of best-selling book Margin, puts it this way:
“The world has witnessed almost continuous change, but never before with such levels of speed, suddenness, complexity, intensity, information, communication, media, money, mobility, technology, weaponry, and interconnectedness.“[i]
Let’s add “stress” to that list.
Unfortunately, our children are the innocent victims of this onslaught. We have all heard the stories because it is happening to our kids. Understandably, they are having issues coping with the complexity and speed of life today. The statistics are staggering. They headline the news every day. Stress, anxiety, depression, lack of sleep, ADHD, obesity, learning disabilities, social skills, and even death from suicide have been linked to the overload our children face today.
Here’s a simple example. I received an email last week from a security service I subscribe to called LifeLock. The subject was “Data Breach Notification,” urging me to change my passwords as a preventative measure. OK. I went into my password manager program (on my iPhone) to find out that I had entered 263passwords! That stressed me out (and still does). I don’t think we can begin to understand the toll that stress takes.
My parents both smoked cigarettes as they came into adulthood. It was cool to have a cigarette back then, and they had no good reason not to smoke. Then they got addicted. Nobody had studied the link between smoking tobacco and deaths from things like lung cancer or emphysema. My mom died of emphysema at age 76. Those studies are out now. But for mom, it was too late.
Forty years later, I am sure that similar studies are forthcoming on the deadly effects of the technology overload we are being subjected to today. Our brains are not equipped to handle the barrage of information and radio frequency (FR) exposure coming at them. It’s too much. The negative impact on our health is clear!
This story is just one example from a close friend of mine:
After high school, his son hit a rough patch in life and developed a serious alcohol/drug habit. It was not pretty, but he got himself into a long-term rehab center and is now doing fantastic. While in the rehab center, he told a story about a small group discussion he had with a dozen or so other young adults in the same situation. The leader asked each of them in the group what they thought had led to their addiction. Each one of them agreed that it was their deep internal need to slow down. Life was moving too fast, and they could no longer cope, so they began to take alcohol or drugs to help them deal with it.
If I were to boil down my twelve months of New Ventures West coaching training to the most important thing I learned, it would be the need for us all to slow down. If one genuinely wants to have freedom in their being to discover and pursue who they are in the world, slowing down is a mandatory first step.
I had the opportunity to slow down when I was laid off from my job. It was a bit like Punta Pequeña; suddenly, I had time just “to be”. That experience led me to step off the Silicon Valley express train to make a significant transition in my career. I began to feel the freedom one experiences when listening to your heart. It was like going surfing without a leash. I felt empowered to experience the freedom of whom I was deep inside without being tethered to earthly expectations. Although I was quite scared that I would quickly fall and lose my way, this new awakening brought about a sense of joy not felt in years.
As I began to coach clients, I quickly learned that a key to my success was getting them to slow down. Coaching a client traveling through life at today’s “normal” speed is like trying to diagnose car trouble with no dashboard to display the metrics. You might as well be throwing darts at an invisible target—you have no idea what the underlying issues are. The speed and intensity of life today seem to require that we lose touch with our inner-self. We are too busy to look at our dashboard.
Being Present Meditation is an excellent first step for starting to slow down. It is amazing what our mind, body, and heart can tell us if we can slow down enough to listen. We tend to see the world in a physical sense. If I look OK, I must be OK. Coaching brought me to realize that there is an equally-important spiritual side to our being. The soul requires every bit as much attention and care as our physical bodies do. Meditation tends to our needs in our spiritual bodies. Even the Bible contains over sixty references that tell us to meditate. [iiii]
A valuable tool for dealing with stress is learning to pay attention to this very moment. “Being present” is a phrase for nonjudgmentally allowing yourself to experience the here and now. Another common term is mindfulness, or bringing one’s attention to experiences occurring in the present moment. The awareness that can emerge from paying attention to the present moment can be life-altering. Even if it’s just for 5 minutes a day, it can make a world of difference. There is plenty to read from a wealth of books on this subject. Two of my favorites are mentioned below.[ii]
Looking to Heaven Steven Curtis Chapman was on to something when he released the hit song “Next 5 Minutes” in 1999. The song talks about living the next five minutes as if they were your last five minutes; truly living in the moment.
What if the next five minutes are all you have?
I did a great deal of contemplation about my life following the layoff from Oracle and subsequent one-year sabbatical to become a life coach. There was no question about the 2×4 hitting me square on the head; I could feel God at work. Yet, I found my mind often drifting to my mortality. Mom and dad were now gone, so I was next, right? It was kind of difficult to avoid that one. In one sense, that motivated me to get my act together for that “second mountain” I had to climb (in the words of David Brooks’ from his book, The Second Mountain). But in another sense, it made me wonder about what was next. I was closer to that part of my life than I wanted to admit.
Since I am a Christian, did I really believe that paradise awaited me?[iii] What did the Bible have to say about heaven? And what about all those near-death experience (NDE) trips to heaven that people have written so many books about—Are those valid? I even wondered if I would be able to go surfing in heaven!?
It struck in me an insatiable desire to learn more.
[ii] Books on meditation: – Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body by Daniel Goleman and Richard Davidson There are more books than I can count, extolling the many wonders of meditation. I liked this book because Daniel and Richard sifted through the morass of clinical research to boil out the truth about what meditation can do for us and how to get the most out of it. I had the opportunity to meet Daniel Goleman at a promotion event for this book and can assure you he is legit.
– Care of the Soul by Thomas Moore This is a beautifully written account of how to care for our innermost being. Having a firm belief that our soul is what we take with us to heaven in the life hereafter, I found this to be a refreshing view on making the most of my life here on earth in preparation for our eternal home in heaven. I completely agree with Mr. Moore’s assertion that our “loss of soul” is a significant problem facing us today, resulting in many societal ills. The primary takeaway underscored the profound value of quiet time and meditating on a daily basis. According to Mr. Moore, we care for the soul by living life in a way that our inner sense of who we are flourishes.
[iii]“Jesus answered him [on the cross], “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:43
“Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” -Proverbs 19:21
My faith and patience were acutely tested following my layoff from Oracle. I was putting in more hours in the job search than I had my job at Oracle, only to be consistently told I did not make the team. This resulted in many questions that seemed to hang in the air and go nowhere. Of course, my age was at the top of the list. A cloud of doubt was setting in. It was like a long lull off the end of the jetty in CdM that never seemed to end. I refused to paddle in. Surely one last set was coming. But the sun was going down and I was getting cold.
In the midst of it all, I reflected on a meeting I had with a close friend, Roger Williams,[i] who was always so positive and confident in how God is at work in our trials. Roger was the President and CEO of the Mount Hermon Christian Conference Center in the Santa Cruz Mountains. He walked through life here on earth with the exhilaration of his salvation as if he were walking on the precipice of heaven. He truly glowed as a living example of how the Scriptures can guide and transform you. Nothing speaks louder to me than a life like Roger’s that has been transformed by what God offers.
I had met with Roger in October of 2013 while he was in the midst of an arduous struggle with cancer. He continued teaching and providing visionary leadership at Mount Hermon during his battle. Despite it all, he agreed to meet with me in his majestic office amidst the giant Redwoods at Mount Hermon to address specific questions I had regarding my future. I sensed that God was calling me to a ministry around a balanced life in Silicon Valley and knew Roger could help guide me. Although it was a challenging time for him with his declining health, we spent over two and-a-half hours that evening. Roger spoke with intensity and delight that I can’t quite do justice with words. It was as if our meeting had been ordained by God.
My direct question to him was,
“Roger, how had you known that it was God calling when you gave up your successful business career and beautiful home to go into ministry?”
Roger did not hesitate; his response was crystal clear. He told me that God had quite simply hit him over the head with a 2×4 when his calling arrived. It was obvious. There was no mistaking it. “You will know for sure when it happens to you,” he told me.
And after hearing the specifics of his story around his calling to serve, I had to agree. A 2×4 had hit him! I left that meeting with a great sense of relief and drove over the summit on Highway 17, thankful for such lucid advice from such a dear friend.
Suddenly, Roger’s wisdom rang out to me; there was no mistaking the 2×4. The cloud of doubt was lifting; it was all suddenly quite clear. I began to see that I had been hit multiple times!
My layoff from Oracle hit me with the power of a steel 2×4. It shook my foundation. But was that God? In pursuing the job search and taking classes from the outplacement firm, I sensed that my heart was not fully in the work I was seeking. The fear of unemployment was driving me. The bills were still coming in and I needed to work!
Then two more 2×4s descended onto my head that finally rang my bell. God was calling.
The first was a job opportunity I pursued at a data storage company in downtown Mountain View, PureStorage. The stars had finally aligned, and I felt like this was the job for me. I had twelve interviews and two presentations to their executive staff over a couple of months. It had been all-consuming and appeared to be a perfect fit. From everything I could see, they liked me. They targeted the Oracle database customers as a new opportunity and needed a seasoned marketing professional to navigate Oracle’s myriad of product teams, organizations, and technology. I could even walk to the office from home.
In the end, I had to call them to find out they had hired someone else. That was a Muhammad Ali shot straight to the forehead. I was on my back.
Feeling quite dazed and discouraged, a good friend set me up to meet with a senior executive from a venture capital company on Sand Hill Road who worked with Silicon Valley start-ups. Surely, he could set me straight on how to land a marketing job in this valley. We met outdoors at Philz Coffee in Palo Alto, and I will never forget the first words out of his mouth (beyond the niceties):
“You’ll never get hired in this valley.”
I gurgled my sip of coffee, almost getting it down the wrong pipe.
“Uhum. Excuse me?”
He had not even looked at the manila folder I had handed him with all my good deeds. I was utterly flabbergasted and did not know what to say. My sales pitch was gone. The wind had gone out of my sails. No waves were coming. The sun had set. I might as well paddle in.
His next sentence provided clarity, but still hung in the air like the Hindenburg poised to explode into flames:
“The average age of a CEO [start-up] in this valley is just over 30 years, and they are not going to hire you.”
That was the only time I did not finish my Philz coffee. I had plenty of adrenaline running through my veins already. And the buzz lasted for days. That 2×4 settled it. Roger was right; there was no question.
With a serious dose of faith that the bills would get paid and much patience that I could wait twelve months to start, I enrolled in a 1-year training program to become a professional life coach (a New Ventures West Integral Coach). This set a path for me to transition my career from high-tech marketing to helping others navigate work/life balance challenges in Silicon Valley. It was a job made in heaven for me to go on a mission of self-discovery for my future. I was stoked!
New Ventures West (NVW) had the most advanced training curriculum available, with a seasoned faculty known for their wisdom and experience. I needed the best to effectively lead people in a discussion about balancing priorities in Silicon Valley. It felt right. I was sure God was directing me.
That year was a fantastic transformation of my self-identity as I looked deep inside to find my passage forward. I was coached in the class (by instructors and fellow students) to understand the experience my clients would have. That meant learning to slow down and listen with my heart about what was going on inside. It was quite uncomfortable for someone who had been riding the express train in Silicon Valley for twenty-five years. My world had been all about going faster, not slower. But I could feel it was right. I was finally on a path I could follow with my heart. It was life-changing stuff. To put it in surfing terms (as one of my classmates described it), I was learning to “Hang 11!”
Epilog on Roger Williams
[i] Roger went to his heavenly home on September 14, 2014, succumbing to cancer that he called “his insidious dance partner.” His passing came just a few days after his 21st anniversary at Mount Hermon. Praise God for the gift I was given that day to be with Roger and drink from the deep well of wisdom he offered.
Our family would spend a week each year with Roger and his team at the Mount Hermon family camp at Lake Tahoe. Most memorable of those trips were the summer evenings we spent singing worship music and taking communion on the shore’s edge of Lake Tahoe. Watching the sunset paint brilliant colors onto the surrounding lake and mountains, our family sang praises to God for the beauty of his creation. The love and joy Roger always showed us left an indelible impression on me.
While I was very sad to lose Roger as a friend and mentor here on earth, I feel closer to him than ever and rejoice in the thought of joining him in heaven. Roger was one of the first people to get me excited about heaven. He spoke of it as if he had been there. I can still hear his voice calling out to us on the shore’s edge as the sun was painting its portrait:
“Folks, we can count on God’s promise that heaven will far surpass this beauty we see now.
If you think the colors are good now – wait till you see them in heaven.
If you think the sunsets are good now – wait till you see them in heaven.
If you think this is a beautiful place to live now – wait until you see it REDEEMED in heaven!”
Roger Williams (1947-2014)
Roger’s family posthumously published a book by him that he had been working on before his passing. The book showed up on our kitchen counter one night when I had arrived home late after the family had gone to bed. I had not known about it and was stunned! I could only wonder that Roger had ensured its delivery to comfort me. That very night I had been teaching a group of young adults at our church on the topic of “Heaven” and had been questioning myself the entire drive home as to my qualifications to do so. The title of the book is:
Hearing From Heaven: A Memoir of God At Work At Mount Hermon by Roger Williams
“Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter”. –Mark Twain
As much as I had been anticipating it, I was seriously wounded when the words finally came. After 25 years of continuous employment in Silicon Valley, the layoff bullet I had been dodging for so many years finally caught me in January of 2017. The official explanation was “corporate downsizing.” The ensuing farewell email went out that day with the title, “new beginnings.” (1)
New beginnings, for sure!
I had been through the corporate downsizing exercise more times than I wanted to count. Once the dot com bubble burst in 2000, layoffs at Sun Microsystems had become a drumbeat that never seemed to end. (2) I am reminded of a Gary Larson The Far Side comic where one deer says to the other (who has a bulls-eye on his chest):
“Bummer of a birthmark, Hal!”
Every six months, we were paraded in front of management for a closed-door session to see whose turn it was to pack their boxes and leave. It was as if we were lined up for a firing squad and didn’t know whose gun had the bullet. The layoff meetings had become so commonplace that one manager actually read me the official “You’re fired” script in a closed-door session, only to pause, and then tell me he was kidding!
At least I knew how it was going to feel when I finally did get the gun with the bullet. Thinking it over after, I was sorry I hadn’t fallen to the floor and feigned a heart attack!
All hoodwinking aside, it was my turn to hear the official news from my boss. I waited for the pause, but he was not kidding. Leaving the meeting left me feeling as if I had a bold “L” tattooed across my forehead (“Loser” or “Laid off,” take your pick). As the official script read, it had nothing to do with my performance, age, or even my regular use of the corporate gym. I had finally woken up in the wrong job with the wrong product at the wrong time. I shuddered at the thought of not having a job to go to tomorrow. It was another “green flash” moment. The world stopped turning as I walked down the hall back to my office.
At 62 years of age, it was time to go job hunting. I decided to write about it as a means of coping with the ordeal. According to the outplacement firm Oracle Corporation provided to ease my transition, this was good therapy. (3)
The goodbyes of that final day were memorable and many. I usually started my day in the cafeteria, where Mary, Julia, and several other faithful servers had become an important part of my work routine. Although there are no free meals at Oracle, I would miss those folks.
I dropped in on those few on my team who were left behind to defend the fort. There were lots of hugs and a few tears. Ricarda stopped by my office with her cheery “Buenos Dias!” to empty my trash as I was packing my final box. Knowing my limited Spanish, she understood immediately when I motioned the cutthroat sign to her. I handed her one of my plants, and she showed great compassion.
My good friend Steve Sarvate and I snuck out to our private court for a final round of tennis on the Oracle clock. He lost his entire team in the layoff (including his manager), but somehow survived. (4) As I bid farewell to the Club Oracle recreation center staff, I was reminded how my officemates could not understand how I found time to go to the gym each day. I would reply that I could not understand how they could not! It made an incredible difference in my productivity and attitude at work.
As I was walking out to the parking lot with my boxes, the looks I got from those left behind brought back fresh memories of the times I had been in their shoes. The sense of guilt over why you dodged the bullet was disconcerting. My work did not disappear; they would soon be bearing the burden of picking up the pieces.
It was an emotionally draining day. Despite trying to be present amid the farewells, I could not help but wonder about my future. A Silicon Valley marketing job would not be easy to land if you were unemployed at my age, no matter how good you were. I’d been told I should try a little Grecian Formula on my hair and maybe a pair of cool-looking eyeglasses.
The drive home was a bit more upbeat. Windows rolled down with the sunroof open, there was a feeling of release creeping in on me. The breakup with Larry Ellison was not something I would lose sleep over. I was sensing that this could be good. Maybe even great!
The family and I decided to head straight to the theater for an early showing of the Disney movie Moana, which turned out to be the perfect anecdote to the day. It opened with a short film called Inner Workings, which immediately spoke to me. It followed Paul’s internal organs (brain, heart, lungs, stomach, etc.), a man living in 1980s California, as he awakened on a typical day of work with dozens of other employees sitting at desks entering data into their computers.
They were moving in monotonous unison while his brain took notice of the dreary routine of his life and came to realize that this cycle would eventually lead to his death as a sad, miserable, lonely man. No surprise that Paul looked to be my age. Ha! It was as if God was suddenly waking my internal organs into a new life, I was stepping off the Silicon Valley treadmill for the first time in years. It was refreshing. Best of all, I could now paddle out at Steamer Lane mid-day during the week.
Life carried on, even though my job had stopped. In so many ways, nothing changed (including the bills!). For 25 years, I had gone to work. I was lost with nowhere to go. It was clear that I needed a plan. Having my calendar wide open was not the good thing it used to be. I quickly realized the importance of keeping myself busy to stay in a healthy state of mind. Surely, I could land on my feet. All those years of fighting the good battle in the valley of infinite silicon did teach me a thing or two. Work/life balance had been my creed, but I also knew how to handle combat. I was not afraid of digging into a fox hole for a frontline battle to find work.
There were days of melancholy. I lacked purpose and realized my job had been how I measured my value. It was humbling. I wanted to make some changes there. Like Paul in the movie InnerWorkings, my perspective had changed, and I was afraid of what might lay ahead. It was as if I had been on an express train for 25 years blowing by all of the stops with complete focus on the destination. Suddenly the train had stopped, and I got off. It was unfamiliar territory for me.
The good news was that I had sufficient daily margin to enjoy a rich time of prayer and meditation, every day. I sensed that God had plans for my passion around work/life balance; it was exciting to think about what might unfold. I knew this time away from the daily routine of work was a gift and I wanted to use it wisely. I studied John Wooden’s Pyramid of Success for encouragement. At the very pinnacle were the two words I committed to stand by: – Faith (Through prayer.) – Patience (Good things take time.)
As I faithfully waited on God, I recited a prayer each morning by Saint Ignagius Loyola. (5) Its simplicity and purpose was just what I needed to start each day:
“Lord Jesus Christ. All that I have and cherish, you have given me. I surrender it all to be guided by your will. Your grace and your love are enough for me. Give me these Lord Jesus, and I ask for nothing more. Amen.”
Email sent to my co-workers at Oracle on January 19, 2017 (3:51 pm):
Subject: new beginnings
I will be leaving Sun/Oracle effective today — time for new beginnings! It has been my very great pleasure to work with you all. THANK YOU — especially to Vijay Tatkar, who has been my inspirational & loyal leader these past few years. I look forward to staying in touch with you going forward.
When Oracle Corporation purchased Sun in 2009 (for $7.4 Billion), it was another scramble to justify your existence to the new CEO, Larry Ellison. We were all on the chopping block. I was an Alliance Manager for a strategic partnership Sun had with Intel Corporation at the time. The first meeting with the then-President of Oracle Safra Catz did not go well. She began the meeting by dropping the strategic partnership agreement between Sun and Intel on the table and asking, “What is this shit?”
One of my inspirations to write this book was author William Finnegan, who wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning Barbarian Days at about my same age. Barbarian Days was his story of a life-long obsession with surfing after a long career as a well-known author of international journalism. In his words, “I was reluctant to come out of the closet as a surfer because of how I would be perceived as a writer.” Barbarian Days is a remarkable collection of surf stories from his escapades of traveling worldwide from the 1960s up to the present day. What makes his book so remarkable is that it is very well written. Finnegan debunks that myth that surfers are not good writers with a detailed analysis of every surf spot he sees (including San Onofre) in a way that makes it attractive to even a non-surfing audience. Thus, the Pulitzer Prize. Of course, he’s now my hero.
Steve Sarvate lasted another two years at Oracle before getting laid off himself. He sold his home in Sunnyvale and moved to an apartment in San Francisco. Once the pandemic hit, we had a couple of zoom calls to check in on each other. He passed away of a heart attack in 2021 on a tennis court in the city while waiting for a game. Steve read all of my blogs on surfingforbalance.com, and I rest in the comfort that he knew (and often debated with me) the truth of Jesus Christ.
Saint Ignatius Loyola was a sixteenth-century Spanish Catholic priest who founded the religious order of The Society of Jesus (The Jesuits).
“If we are enjoying so much progress, why is everyone so worn out? “ -Dr. Richard A. Swenson, M.D.
Age with wisdom can be a wonderful thing. I look back now on some of the hardest experiences in my life and realize how they helped me grow. My leap into tennis club management embodies this dynamic.
I left Utah with degree in hand and landed at the Rusty Pelican Restaurant in Newport Beach to ease my transition into responsible living. Ha! Waiting tables almost became my career. I was stuffing my safe deposit box with gold Krugerrands to manage all the cash from tips, surfing (or playing tennis) all day, and arriving at work just in time to eat. It could easily have become a lifestyle …
Somehow, I got back on plan when I was hired as general manager of the Covina Hills Racquet Club (CH) in southern California. CH was the full package club, with thirteen tennis courts, two racquetball courts, weights/aerobics room, pro shop, snack bar, jacuzzi/sauna, and an outdoor pool. I would be directing the “leisure society” with members who were spending their free time (and disposable income) at our club. Dr. Rockwood would have been proud; it was textbook.
Or so I thought.
I was immediately overwhelmed. Work/life balance went out the window, even though I was wearing tennis clothes and working on my sunta. I had a staff of twenty employees and two tenants (pro shop and snack bar) who needed constant attention. The owners (Granada Royale Hometels) expected a tennis club to be as clean and orderly as a newly arrived hotel room; inspections from the hotel staff were constant.
I soon realized CH was in a negative cash flow position with memberships declining. Then we had a pink eye outbreak in the pool. Upon inspecting the pump room, I found my maintenance man smoking pot (“Are those two connected?”).
This part was not in the textbook!
My workdays were some of the longest I have ever worked; I quickly realized that peak hours at the club were when all my friends were off work (weeknights, weekends, and holidays). I dropped off social calendars and watched my tennis game disappear. It was as if I had been thrown onto the court against Bjorn Borg and wished “good luck,” even though everyone knew it was going to be a massacre.
The tide began to turn when I hired our head tennis pro, Barry Friedman. CH immediately took to his style and personality as he rallied (pun intended) members into activities that raised morale and got everyone out to play. A community was awakened.
Looking back, I see two big lessons from CH:
Members (people) are generally happy if they have a tennis pro (leader) who they like and who can improve their game. Barry taught me a lot in that area.
Relationships matter; never overlook any one of them. It took just one letter from a disgruntled member at CH to nearly cost me my job. I survived, but vowed not to ever allow that to happen again.
When Granada Royale Hometels announced their shocking decision to close CH two years later, I took a leap of faith to join a new telecommunications company called ROLM in 1984 (where my sister Terry was working). I was hired as a customer support advisor and was responsible for driving maintenance contract revenue for ROLM’s telecommunications systems. I was like a deer in headlights. Overnight I transitioned from counting tennis balls in the pro shop to counting ports on a printed circuit board (and having to learn what a port was!).
AT&T had a monopoly of analog telephone service in the U.S., over what would soon become the digital transmission network of the internet. As the U.S. government mandated the breakup of this monopoly in 1982, companies like ROLM emerged to computerize the telephone and long-distance service for businesses. ROLM was investing heavily in technical training of their workforce to get a jump on this new opportunity. It was as if I was going back to college, but getting paid to do it!
Best of all, I met the love of my life Marla. She was also in a customer support role when we first met at ROLM’s Irvine, California office. An office friendship immediately developed. Marla was smart as a whip (USC graduate), beautiful, fun, easy to talk to, and liked to laugh. When I first announced my interest in her, my co-worker Al Walker snapped back, “Mulkey, she’s got legs as long as you are!”
I won the jackpot when Marla agreed to marry me in Newport Beach in 1991. We moved north to ROLM’s headquarters in Santa Clara where we planted our roots, raised two children (Marisa and Matthew), and began to call Mountain View home, leaving behind the warm beaches of southern California.
Selling a ROLM Computerized Branch Exchange (CBX) required technical sales support. I was in the right place at the right time, and after twelve months of training classes, I was a fully seasoned ROLM systems engineer. It was an exciting time to be on the leading edge of a Silicon Valley company like ROLM.
I immediately took to ROLM’s CEO, Ken Oshman, and his philosophy of “GPW” (Great Place To Work). In-between training classes and field sales calls, I was back on the tennis courts or taking time out for a jacuzzi or steam bath at work. The ROLM campus included recreation facilities that rivaled CH; they were even featured on CBS 60 Minutes. It really was a great place to work!
Marla and I were both enjoying the excitement of our jobs at ROLM, but realized there was not much free time to go hang out at the beach. Silicon Valley was emerging as the global center of innovation for computer technology, so it seemed reasonable that work became the priority. The computer was entering our lives in ways we never could have anticipated in the 1970s. Dr. Rockwood’s leisure society was in jeopardy.
The information revolution explosion which soon followed happened so quickly that nobody had time to study the potential dangers that came with it. Alvin Toffler wrote about this in his book Future Shock (1970), arguing that that the information overload to come would overwhelm society and result in a “future shock” because of our inability to handle it all. The more I saw of Silicon Valley, the more I believed he was on to something. There was a wave coming and it was big.
The Wave In the midst of all this, it took me five years to brave the cold water in Santa Cruz and go surfing. It was a long dry spell! Some blame was due to the work culture in Silicon Valley, but mostly it was my fear of the frigid northern California currents. New wetsuit technology from O’Neill finally got me to break the ice at Steamer Lane (“the lane”) in 1996. I quickly realized I had found an escape valve from the Silicon Valley pace, less than an hour from my doorstep in Mountain View.
The lane on a big winter swell is not for the faint of heart. Both the leash and wetsuit were spawned there for good reason. The rock cliffs are gnarly, and the water is numbing. It is a world-class reef/point break that is thick and powerful and can rip for several hundred yards into Cowell’s beach (on a low tide). It rivals any break I have surfed in California.
Paddling out can challenge even the best surfers, as the currents are strong, the waves often too humongous to duck under, and there are four different breaks to navigate (indicators, middle-peak, the slot, the point). I like to sit at middle-peak on big days when it can top triple overhead further outside at the point; however, waiting for a wave can get spooky. Middle-peak can jack up to double overhead out of nowhere and get you diving for abalone faster than a boat anchor if you can’t get over it. The longer your board, the more difficult that can be. Middle-peak waves often move sideways as fast (or faster) than they are moving in, so positioning for the take-off can be quite tricky and involve a bit of luck.
I caught the biggest wave of my life on a winter storm-swell day at middle-peak. The sensation was completely alien. The wave unexpectedly appeared and came at me like a freight train out of a dark tunnel, whistle howling. As I paddled for it the ocean picked me up like a tsunami and began moving with me. It was as if all of Monterey Bay was caught up in this wave. I was instantly moving with the wave and rapidly dropping in, whether I wanted to or not! The wave had caught me.
I quickly got to my feet in a crouched position as I raced down the face, noticing a couple of surfers diving for the bottom off to my side. The drop was sensational, akin to jumping off a cliff. As I started a sweeping right turn, the enormity of the wave and the amount of water moving with me was exhilarating! I felt like Franz Klammer at the 1976 Olympics, racing with abandon to stay ahead of the crashing lip, ignoring all sense of form. I had never gone so fast.
Over my shoulder, I could see the wave breaking behind me in apparent slow motion. Surfers sneaking over the lip looked back down at me as I excitedly banked off the face with water spraying high into the crisp Santa Cruz air like a snowboarder coming off a half-pipe lip. My Doug Haut surfboard tracked onto the face of the wave as if it were the Santa Cruz boardwalk roller coaster, dropping and climbing as the face continued to build in front of me without any sign of letting up. The force of it allowed me to sweep further out of the section without any danger of losing momentum back into the wave. I was flying!
This went on continuously until I finally kicked out at Cowell’s beach on the inside as the wave broke in front of me. Cresting over the lip I fell off the back of my board and floated on my back to soak in the memory of what had just happened. I released a light laugh and then slowly climbed on my board and paddled back out, reliving every part of that wave. Like one good shot on a round of golf, it carried me for many, many waves after. It had been a gift from God.
“If you are going through hell, keep going.” — Winston Churchill
Jerry Rodder in his formal attire for his piano recital
I was at Trader Joe’s when a fellow Mountain View Masters (MVM) swimmer dropped in on my cash register and blurted out,
“Hi Mike, did you know that Jerry passed away on Father’s Day?”
This confused me, as I was having trouble figuring out who she was with all the coverings on (I don’t recognize swimmers with their clothes on!). My dad (Kona Jack) had also died on Father’s Day …
As I began to scan her groceries I shot back,
“Jerry? Jerry who??”
By the time all was paid and bagged I realized it was our dear friend Jerry Rodder. There was no funeral or obituary or much of any swimming going on, so word did not really get out. Jerry’s departure hit me hard. He was an amazing man who had a sense of humor about life I am really going to miss. He reminded me a great deal of my dad. They both loved Trader Joe’s.
Jerry and his wife Jill were part of a 5am swimming group I somehow brushed shoulders with for ten or so years at Eagle Park pool (note, they were waiting at the gate at 4:45am; even on those icy cold dark mornings of winter). Jerry and Jill had been around MVM forever. They even wrote the original bylaws for MVM, when Jerry told me they would jump the fence and swim 10,000 meters before anyone else arrived. The early bird got the worm in their house.
The early birds outside the gate at Eagle pool (on Jill’s 80th birthday!)
It was always a big motivation for me to get there for the 5am workout knowing Jerry would already be in the pool. Since Jerry was twenty five years my senior, this got my attention. The swim workout at that hour was not my favorite thing. It was hard to get going… But the 6am shower after with Jerry set the tone for a good day.
We took long and leisurely showers after the workout, which Jerry joked that we would drain the city of Mountain View of all their hot water. He would still be showering, as we were shaving and getting dressed for work, walking over to me (dripping wet naked) to tell me that he couldn’t remember the last time he shaved; and that he was going to go home and take a nap. Thanks Jerry.
Each day Jerry would bring a joke to the pool to share among us guys. His jokes were not always clean (most were not) and they definitely were off color at times, but they were always funny. Jerry delivered these jokes as if he were on Broadway, casually pausing to drop the punch line with impeccable timing. He would even bring me a printed copy of “the good ones” so I could send them off to my dad in Hawaii (which I often did – and he loved them!). I had very little in common with Jerry other than our love of swimming, but our morning laughs in the shower were something I cherished.
I never knew much about Jerry’s life until I unexpectedly received an invitation to his home. He had pencil sketched the time and address on a small scrap of paper, handing it to me after our shower. “Come on by” was all he said.
My wife Marla and I had no idea what to expect when we showed up at Jerry and Jill’s house in Los Altos, which was a story in itself. The interior of the house had no walls separating the rooms. What?! It was one big room that was decorated like a museum. The museum pieces were displayed in groups and were quite varied and unique. There was a Swiss army knife that was as tall as me (in the “knives” section); there were out of the ordinary clocks (in the “clocks” section). One wall was adorned with seventeen U.S. Patents with Jerry’s name on them. He never talked about that.
A plaque with a newspaper clipping from the San Jose Mercury News (circa 1964) showed Jerry next to the machine he had invented. I asked him what it was, and he chuckled, telling me that it could measure the weight of a speck of dust to within .0000001% accuracy (or something like that). “Oh”, was the only response I could muster. Needless to say, this was a side of Jerry Rodder I did not know beyond his jokes in the shower.
Jerry in his Orchids greenhouse
We wandered outside to Jerry’s expansive vegetable and fruit garden and entered a large greenhouse that was adorned with award-winning Orchids – dozens of them that were stunning in their brilliant colors and ornamental shapes. Jerry explained he competed in local Orchid contests where he often won 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place prizes. He had invented a magic “alcohol-based” fertilizer that caused just about anything to grow to record levels. We had been savoring mouth-watering tomatoes and melons that Jerry brought to the swim club for years, and now I knew why. He joked with me that the Environmental Protection Agency would shut him down if they had any idea what he put in it.
Just as we were getting thirsty for a drink or bite to eat (not a scrap of food or drink was to be found), Jerry told us all to sit down so he could play his piano recital. Huh?
“Big Mike” entertains the swimming crowd at one of Jerry’s piano recitals
As he sat down at his magnificent Steinway grand piano and played the first set of notes, I instantly knew we were in for a treat. Jerry played variations of Beethoven, Chopin, Tchaikovsky, Mozart and more for 45 minutes straight without reading a note. Marla and I sat in stunned silence as we drank in the wondrous melodies watching his fingers float over the keys. Upon completion, Jill promptly brought out fresh-baked cake along with sweet melons from Jerry’s garden. It was an exquisite unforgettable evening!
Jerry was a very unique and colorful individual who covered more ground in a lifetime than a Winston Churchill memoir. He was a husband, father, grandfather, scientist, inventor, chemist, horticulturist, swimmer, concert pianist, and comedian; and I barely knew him, first meeting him in his late seventies. I believe Jerry was a genius.
The last time I saw Jerry was at his house a few months before the pandemic hit after his 90th birthday. He was no longer swimming and had help at home to keep good food on the table since Jill had departed two years earlier. We had a brief conversation about Trader Joe’s and how he loved going there to do his shopping. I bid him farewell, never thinking that was it.
I miss Jerry.
I miss his jokes and his ability to make fun of whatever and whoever was in the news. Jerry kept his wit right up to the end. He loved swimming. He is the only person I know who could get me laughing at 5am. He loved his music and most of all he loved his wife Jill. It was hard for him when she left first.
The world is a little more serious of a place without Jerry Rodder.
God bless you, my friend!
I found this short clip on the web about Jerry and Jill:
Fri Mar 23, 2018, 8:38 am:
More sad news, Jill Rodder, wife of Jerry Rodder (Jerry’s Grow) passed away last evening. They were a great couple, Jerry grew them and Jill prepped them for display. Jerry’s magic fertilizer was the best on the market and he grew the finest orchid plants I have ever seen anywhere. Jill shone the leaves and cleaned the husks so that every orchid displayed was a glistening specimen. Jerry still has plants but at a more manageable level now. The Cymbidium hybrid named in Jill’s honor is a beauty and was her joy when it bloomed each Spring. Those of us who know and love Jerry, one of the smartest and most technically accomplished people I have ever known, will surely be there to offer him love and support at this difficult time. Hopefully any orchid wannabes will not seek to exploit Jill’s death for self-aggrandizement at any forthcoming orchid shows………
Bonnie Tsui is an accomplished author, writer, and swimmer who immerses you into a wonderful analysis and tribute to the sport of swimming with a sort of memoir of her life blended in. If you like to swim (or just be in the water) you will drink this up! If you don’t swim, this book very well may get you in the water. It is very well written and Bonnie covers all aspects of the sport, including some fascinating historical insights.
Life moves quickly today. We can do so much in little time. It is exciting for a Type-A person like myself who loves to be efficient and blast through the to-do list. I can check the surf, tide tables, traffic on Highway 17, and view a live camera of Steamers Lane — all with a finger tap or two on my iPhone; while I am shopping for my grocery list at Trader Joe’s!
It’s fantastic. But like the groceries, it comes at a cost.
“… The world has witnessed almost continuous change, but never before with such levels of speed, suddenness, complexity, intensity, information, communication, media, money, mobility, technology, weaponry, and interconnectedness.“
(Let’s add “stress” to that list …)
Slow down, emphasis on “now!”
The most important thing I have learned in my coaching profession is the need to slow down.
It is difficult to coach a client who is traveling through life at today’s pace. It’s similar to diagnosing car trouble with no dashboard to tell you what is happening under the hood. The speed and intensity of life seem to require that we lose touch with our inner being (we are too busy for that). I often prescribe meditation to help my clients Stop and Smell The Roses. It is amazing what our mind, body, and heart can tell us if we take the time to listen.
A close friend told me a story underscoring how the speed of life today is impacting our youth. His son hit a rough patch in life after high school and developed a serious alcohol/drug habit. It was not pretty, but he got himself into a long-term rehab center and is now doing great. With a dozen or so other young adults, the leader asked what they thought led to their addiction. It was their deep internal need to slow down. Each one of them agreed, life was moving too fast and they could no longer cope, so they began to deal with it by taking alcohol or drugs. I can sure relate to that. My coping mechanism just happens to be exercise.
For me, slowing down was what put me on the path to become a New Ventures West certified coach. After twenty-five years in Silicon Valley riding the Express train, I had been laid off from my job at the age of sixty-two. The train had stopped, so I got off and explored my options. It was like Surfing Without a Leash. Suddenly I was empowered to experience the freedom of who I was deep inside without being tied down to a career. Although painful at first, this new awakening brought about a sense of joy not felt in years. It is now my passion to coach others who struggle to slow down, and discover what is going on “under their hood”.
Surfing for Balance
Growing up at the beach in Corona del Mar in the 1960s was an ideal environment for a young grom like me. We had a tight-knit community of friends who gathered daily at the beach, constantly anticipating the next big south swell. Best of all, my dad was a surfer from Malibu in the 1940s, and it was my time surfing with him on the weekends at San Onofre that most influenced my views on keeping work and life balance. As I grew into adulthood I began to realize that I felt at my very best when I was in the water on my surfboard. It became my identity.
Our surfing adventures to Baja in the early 1980s provided plenty of time to slow down
When I first transferred to Silicon Valley in 1990 I wondered what everyone did when they weren’t working. It soon became apparent that when you were working for a computer company in the innovation capital of the world there was not a lot of time to hang out at the beach. The opportunities were endless, but so was the work! I found myself continuously fighting a battle to stay healthy and balanced.
Although it took a couple years to get used to the cold water (thank you, O’Neill wetsuits!), surfing soon became my relief valve from the hectic pace. I launched “Surfing for Balance in Silicon Valley” in 2014 to begin blogging about my struggle to stay afloat as a way to apply my voice to the work-life integration challenge in Silicon Valley.
Writing about the nonstop juggling act between work, family and self began to parallel my training for a triathlon. I was constantly balancing my time to make sure each event got its allotted time. I soon created the Circle of Life as a tool to provide my own emergency warning system when one area got out of whack (work, family, or self). A story from my early career with ROLM is an example when my work was taking over.
I Have Become That Man!
ROLM was a dream company to start a career, and they were led by one of Silicon Valley’s great pioneers, Ken Oshman, who established “Great Place To Work” (GPW) as a corporate goal at ROLM in the early 1970s. I was later managing a global product development team with Siemens ROLM in 1990 when this story takes place.
ROLM set the stage in Silicon Valley as a center of innovation years before others came along
Our product teams were split between the U.S. and Germany, requiring me to fly to Munich quarterly to help coordinate development activities. Waiting at San Francisco International Airport to board my flight to Munich, I was strategically positioned next to the only power outlet in sight for my laptop. Typing out urgent last-minute emails to my team, I likely had veins popping out of my forehead as I raced against to call to begin boarding.
An older businessman suddenly approached me, clearly wanting to chat. Probably in his 60s with grey hair, he wore a smart suit and tie and patiently waited for me to pause from my furious pace. When I finally looked up he blurted out that I reminded him of whom he had been twenty years before. Then he paused, as if that needed to sink in.
He said he was stopping by to tell me to relax, to slow down; “Stop and smell the roses,” he said. He then assured me it all would be waiting for me when I landed in Munich. He said all this in a very relaxed and purposeful manner, looking me straight in the eye. He finished with,
“You’ll see when you’re my age, that it really doesn’t matter.”
I was aghast he had the audacity to tell me this when he had no idea who I was, who I worked for, or where I was going and why. Yet I had an immediate sense that he was absolutely right. I remember his words playing back to me over that long flight. I never saw him again. I believe he was an angel sent to help me slow down. Many years after that incident, I have become that man!
Thirty-five years into my life and launching my career in high technology, I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. Since then I have been on a walk of continual growth in understanding the plan God has for my life, realizing I am not actually the one in control.
Maybe I am losing some who do not believe the Bible, and I fully understand. Many in the surfing community are not followers of Jesus. Stick with me, as we all wonder at times about the truth of scripture.
As a life-long surfer who grew up without a church background, I became a student of Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) to better understand God’s word. BSF soon led me on a path to knowing God through my eternal destiny: heaven. Belief in the glorious wonder of what God has waiting for us has been a lightning bolt of change for me in my faith. In anticipation of heaven, I have found the perseverance to handle today’s challenges, and hope for what tomorrow brings. As crazy as it sounds, I believe we could be Surfing in Heaven when we get there!
What a story!
Julius Achon is my hero.
This book is an inspirational true story of how Julius went from being a 14-year old Ugandan boy soldier during the terrible Idi Amin era to an Olympic runner and then found his calling with an African children’s charity. I could not put it down!
The author of this book (John Brant) wrote my other favorite running book, Duel in the Sun. Brant is a longtime writer-at-large for Runner’s World and knows how to write about running.
A unique recommend on my part, but this book ties into my piece on Steve Jobs (Heaven Can’t Wait). It is the coming-of-age memoir of Lisa Brennan-Jobs, who was Steve Jobs’ first child, although he was not always willing to admit that. This was a well written and candid insight into the anxieties of a child who comes into the world as an inconvenience to her success-focused father.