Adventure in Loss?

Last week I found myself in a situation I never imagined I'd be in: a search and rescue.  Worse yet, a search and rescue for dear friends known well, loved well.  And after three days these friends were not found, only personal items that forced the assumption of worst fears.

How do you find adventure in pain, tragedy, and loss when you cannot even find sense or reason in what otherwise seems a tragic waist or when you can't even remember what you did yesterday because you wondered through the day is a haze of grief, anger, and pain that clouded your thoughts?

How do you find adventure when you are trying to find how to continue when all around you are suffering and you want to comfort and fix but you are broken and uncomfortable too and being in their presence with all the uncomfortable and brokenness makes you even more uncomfortable and it seams, at times, easier to run away and surround yourself with people that aren't as uncomfortable and broken (or at least seem to hide it better as we are all uncomfortable and broken in this fallen world at times and only pretend things are normal)?  It seams easier to just put on that mask among others who are able to do the same and ignore the harsh reality of loss because it seems too hard to face.

But we mustn't take the easy way out!  Hiding from the pain, the ache, is only easier now but results in a gaping wound never healed that oozes into every pore of your life causing all to be effected by the heartbreak, bringing the good of life down (Therapists call this "getting stuck in the grieving process").  What happens next, the new comer to suffering asks, when told we can get stuck in the grieving process: the slow decay of a life from one infection that was hidden instead of faced, denied instead of disinfected.

So, we mustn't take the easy way.  We mustn't hide, mask, or pretend we are as we have been before.  We must sit in the uncomfortable.  We need to simply be, with no words if we have none, with our own pain, uncertainty, and wave upon wave of emotion, and with others who also feel the same helplessness in the face of a barrage of emotions that comes with no words to explain, no reason, or way to fix.

And then wait and see and trust.  See what this wound, slowly healed to leave a scar and the circumstances that caused such a deep cut may bring.  Trusting there is still goodness to be had.  The wound may bring goodness we could never dream up.  The scar, that we will carry with us forever, may become bitter sweet to our soul: a reminder of the loss, the pain, the grief, the hurt but also the very bloodied battle ground where you saw the strength within yourself, the love and faithfulness of those who stayed in the uncomfortable with you, and most of all the presence of the Giver of Life, who despite His Kingship sat next to you, had heartbreak, and maybe even held you in the uncomfortable, in the agony.

Maybe that is the adventure?  A hard adventure but an adventure of discovery, a discovery of such a nature it can only be discovered in the wake of the worst pain, loss, disappointment that this earthly dirt has to offer, a good discovery though, of yourself, your best and truest relationships, and your Great Life Giver.


The Adventure of Changed Plans

I woke up this morning to the tell tail ting of an incoming text.  Blurry eyed, I roll over for a peek at the bright screen with one half open eyeball.  One more staff member will not make it to our monthly company meeting today, down to five, maybe four.  An hour later both eyes are wide open as I chugged my morning beverage but the interrupting phone call left the staff meeting with three, maybe four attendees.  This "I'm sick and won't be into work call" not only leaves our staff meeting with very few staff but leaves me with an entire half day work plan swirling down the drain.
(Super Cub landing on frozen lake with glacier by Owl Bluff, Alaska)

I live in what we Alaskans call "the bush"  (check out the Aussies and Kiwis, they say the same thing).  What it means is I live in a very small village, not big enough to be called a town, of about 200 people that has no modern accoutrements: no store, no gas station, and, yes, heaven forbid, no movie theater (thank you Netflix for keeping me in touch with the rest of my countrymen), and most of all no, and I mean NO, roads to or from anywhere else!  You must fly in a small (think minivan) airplane.  My business, however, has a station, office if you will, in both my small village and the main hub of the State, the big city.  So, I often split my time between the two locations to effectively do all the General Management type jobs one might do.
 (Business trip to sell Alaska Red Salmon in Redding, CA.  Baby boy comes with me to work everyday, near or far.)

When I come to town, however, I like to make my time as efficient and minimal as possible.  If an employee calls in sick on a day I had planned to discuss numerous major financial issues with them, hopefully marking off several things on my to-do list and they will not be in, my life spins out of control (okay, it just feels like it does) and I'm plagued with questions like "Should I just go home as planned and have this important meeting later?", "Should I stay another day?", "What if they are sick tomorrow too?", "What responsibilities at home will I be missing?", "Is my baby boy okay with one more day or does he need to go home?", "Will the milk and eggs I bought yesterday in preparation to fly home today last another day or so (remember, no store where I live)?",  and "Should I just do the job myself, writing an email to get the missing employee up to speed?  This form of communication never seems as effective, though".  And on and on and on . . .
(My family and brother on Trans-siberian Railroad backpacking trip across Northern China and Russia.  The blond, cute baby boy was loved by all.) 

This morning, however, my thoughts stopped spiraling after only one turn around the crazy wheel when I started thinking about traveling, big epic long, adventure pumped traveling.  I love this kind of travel.  Well, I just love travel.  And traveling with my husband has given it a thrill that I can not seem to breath in enough of.  Lacing up your sturdy, comfy shoes that you know you could live in for months.  Strapping on your well packed backpack with almost nothing in it for any civilized westerner but just enough of the right stuff that confidence to face any situation raps around you as the straps wrap around your shoulders.  The graceful motion slinging your one small satchel/day pack/purse (the big airlines call this a personal item) across your shoulder (yes this makes you a bit lopsided, but who cares, adventure awaits) with the most essential items: passport, cash, credit card (or more, it's okay, back up is good), journal, and that comfort inducing long book you have been waiting for long hours uninterrupted to read.  You're ready for adventure, you're ready for whatever comes your way, with the full expectation that most of your days will be spent facing unknown, unplanned surprises.  Not only do you expect them but you are a little excited for them.  This is part of the fun of travel, part of what makes it an adventure.

Why, then, am I expectant and excited for unplanned, unknowns when traveling but dreadful and frustrated by unplanned, unknowns when in my "normal" life?

When that one more texted or phone call changes my day, or even my entire week, or my plans for my time in town I go to grumpy, stressed, panicky places.  What if I didn't?  What if I, much like when traveling, expected the unexpected to happen (I mean, lets be real, have you lived a day on this planet when the unexpected hasn't happened!  Why do we not expect it?)?  What if, when it happened and an entire hour, or two, or four, or eight, or more was suddenly open, available to whatever new thing (or old de-prioritized thing) came up?  What if instead of spiraling down the crazy wheel I saw ADVENTURE in this change and could ask the Giver of all time, plans, and schedules what I was actually suppose to do today as I clearly was not suppose to do what I had planned.  And then waited with excitement to see what I get to do instead.  What if . . .?

Then my cup of hot morning goodness, my now blank note pad for to-dos, my people around me, and most importantly my Giver of all time are my confidence blanket wrapped around me and thrill of adventure in this one day is the
bounce in my step and I start to look for and really feel the adventure and goodness in everyday.
                 (Camping, and sailing, on Lake Clark, Alaska)


This Life: A Wonderful Adventure

This Life: A Wonderful Adventure

I want to constantly live in that reality: this life, a wonderful adventure.  

I want to believe it, not get pulled under by the hard stuff that leaves us complaining and moaning, unable to see all the good.  I want to feel it, really feel it when I get out of bed I'm excited for what is coming, not preparing to plod my feet along, trudging through the daily to-do list with only one mantra: just keep moving.  I want to get out of bed excited for the known and unknown; for what amazing things I might find in my next diaper change; for the new hiding place for that favorite toy that I would have never considered as I don't stand two feet tall; for that work email that just seems amazing, in the bad sort of way, as you swear you have covered this issue with this person no less then four times.  These are coated with frustrations, irritations but they contain wonder too.  It is a wonder my son digested something that comes out like that . . .  It is a wonder my 500 foot square house has places I can't see by standing in the middle and looking in a full circle . . . And its a wonder that email writing professionals doesn't always think the same way I do.  What must they think like? - Wonder, curiosity, opportunity for discovery and understanding: Adventure!

But mostly, I want to LIVE IT!  But not just by circumnavigating the world in 8 month with nothing but a backpack and my best friend or yearly exploring a new destination or dreaming up some abnormal, out-of-the-box endeavors that people are in awe of when you tell the story.
I want to live it when it doesn't look like adventure, when it just looks like the regular must and must nots, dos and do nots of life.

It has been over six years since Lyle and I completed our trip around the world and almost four since we last blogged about our unique adventures.  Since then we produced a little Lydi that is a wonderful combination of his parents but looks mostly like his mom and are expecting another little combination of us that we just can't seem to find a name for (any girl name ideas out there?).  We started building a home.  The 500 square foot, one room cabin won't fit us for ever.  And we took on the family business: an Alaska bush plane air taxi (yes, some parts are like all the reality shows but most are not).  Our life filled with a typical definition of adventure has seemed to slip away, replaced by adult responsibilities, financial stresses, and never enough family time.
One of our friends called this state of adult life "serious, furious" because everything is taken so seriously because, well building a home or paying a mortgage, saving for kid's college and retirement, keeping the car running so everyone gets to their daily activities, and, in our case making sure the family company is doing well enough to pay its bills and the people working for you, trusting you with their livelihood, is serious and since there is never enough time you have to be furiously speedy about it all.

As this change has taken place I have lamented the loss of free-spirited adventuring but now, years into this "real life" I am finding something welling up inside me, something strong, determined, and struggling to fight, to fight for Adventure, an epic journey, a unique quest for my life and the life of my family.  I strongly believe the house, the kids, the job, the business are gifts, blessings, part of the epic, meaningful journey I have been called to.
Unfortunately, when the daily drudgery starts to suck me down, like quick sand pulling in its victim, I begin to think of these blessings as burdens, weights to be lightened or escaped but this dishonors the Giver of these gifts and blinds me to the value, the wealth of these gifts and to the wonder of simply living this blessed life.  The drudgery blinds me to the every day ADVENTURE of life.  That something welling up in me want to fight against this!  I will fight against this!  And daily look for adventure amidst the normality


Bush Rats

A lot of people ask me what people do out in "the bush" for fun and I really don't have a stellar answer. Maybe because for us it is just life and it is best explained by living it or experiencing it. But for your sake I will try and put some words to this unexplainable phenomenon. Add ImageIn our own way we experience a subsistence life style, with a year broken down into chapters with titles like "wackin down a forest" or "the day the reds returned", or "climb and shoot". Actually those are kind of lame titles but the gist is that life and survival and play are closely related. For me some of the elements of survival add more vigor and vitality to my life.
Some of the best days this past winter were spent alone in the woods with a chainsaw, thirty below zero, in a light jacked sweating like a mad man (so much my hair froze and I couldn't wear my hat because the frozen sweat would give me a brain freeze) chopping up the biggest trees I could find. After slicing the logs into sixteen inch sections I would wrestle them into the sled and race the snow machine home so I could get back to get another load before dark. Then when I did finally return for keeps split some of my hard earned blocks of wood into pieces that would fit in my stove to warm my toes by the fire after a long day.
Another day our friends from the big city came to visit and wanting to be good hosts we drug them around the country side careening across vast stretches of frozen lake to a island only to have dinner over a fire and shoot guns into the inky darkness. Dave and Kristine Estrem being willing and able for anything we followed it up with a dinner theater put on by the school kids and the following day a snow machine ride took us to this lake where it seemed like a great idea to launch a canoe into the open water and paddle around the ice chunks.
On quite another day my wife along with her fearless compadres decided to go for a walk about only in Alaska we call it a ski about in the winter. Actually I've never heard that before but that's what they did. Like a nervous father by friend Seth Kroenke flew these crazy mountain mommas up to the crest of a glacier infested pass and flung their gear into the snow. My wife along with Anna Burrows our fearless neighbor and my daring and handy cousin Kristin Vantrease donned their skis and descended three thousand feet and traversed thirty miles of barren and exquisite back country of our back yard right up to our back door.
Three days after leaving our cozy cabin tucked away in the woods they returned with a story, memories and an experience few would dared to have. My wife is quite the lady, with the least skiing experience and admittedly the worst skiing equipment of the three she gutted out the miles with her husband nervously, anxiously waiting at home for his bride to return.
So there you have it, just a couple of the things us bush rats do to fill our long boring days out here in the middle of no where. Thank you Russia for selling this great piece of real estate to us!


Time Machine

So the time machine is actually like hitting fast forward.

Heidi and I made it alive out of Israel and it is hard to believe it has been over a year. Too many adventures to recount so I'll start with more recent events. Our tiny school throws a fall party with costumes and all right near the end of October. Last year we were the Grinch and its little dog with one horn as a reindeer, this year the analogy is better as I was the boat, an 8' Lund and Heidi the motor, a 7 horse kicker. Unfortunately we showed up three minutes too late for the costume contest as our paint was still drying.

Keeping in line with our yearly travel schedule Heidi and I set out to check off another box on our life goals list and check off number six of the seven continents. Antarctica, the most and least desirable of the continents. We commandeered this nice red ship for the task. You can see Heidi on top of the bridge waving her arms!
Our second excursion to shore brought us to Deception Island where we enjoyed the sunny afternoon and jumping off snow hills.
While in this nice little bay we decided to take a dip in the ocean, the 29 degree water prevented any real swimming but it was exhilarating and bone chilling making the balmy 40 degree air seem sublime.
The critters we encountered were numerous and unaffected by our presence. This Leopard Seal lumbered about on the ice and gazed at us through its reptilian eyes.
With nothing but stones to build nests it was quite amusing watching the penguins squabbling and squawking defending their love nests from marauding bandits looking increase their own stash. The cold temps forced the parents to take turns incubating and alternating feeding in the ocean looking for tasty krill.
Twelve days aboard our trusty vessel and twice across the dreaded Drake Passage with countless memories and sights. We turned our backs on that cold continent and looked to the warmer lands to the North.
Keeping with our speed tour modes operands we wasted no time upon making land fall back in Argentina. A quick tour of a local park and realizing it was pretty much exactly like Alaska in many ways we sat our keesters down on a bus and headed North once again. This time with Torres Del Paine in our sights. Being the grand canyon of the Southern Americas we wanted to taste its beauty.
Realizing on the ride to the Park boundary that we were vastly unprepared compared to our fellow travelers we didn't let our naivete daunt us one bit. The Paine circuit is normally done in seven to nine days and we decided to try it in three and a half as that is all the time we had before starting our travels home. After an easy first day we hatched the plan fully and wore the tread off our shoes. Fourteen miles on day one, twenty six on day two and twenty seven weary miles under foot on day three. The last was pure grit as the miles began chafing our bodies in many uncomfortable places.
Dirt crept into all our crevices and a welcome shower met us at trail end, as well as an enormous meal that we gorged ourselves on. I will say though that that was probably the most hydrated I have been in quite some time during that hike, that was good, real good. If your ever in the neighborhood, go there it is awesome, ask me for some tips though we have plenty : )
After returning home to Alaska the longest cold snap I can remember hit and we still sit in the twenty below freezer. This Airplane was being ferried out to another airport from Anchorage and had to execute an emergency landing on Lake Clark and as unfortunate as it is for the plane and pilot and owners it is quite a hoot for us boys. The aircraft broke through the ice but is designed to float so two days after the accident we mustered up and went down and cut the fuselage out of the ice. Using the engine power we (Steve Hackala!) drove it right up and out onto the ice. The following day amounted to melting the remainder of the ice encrusting the belly and taking off from the ice and landing in Port Alsworth. Thats the short story.
Russian Christmas came in early January and some of the locals from Nondalton and quite possibly made the first visit to PA for Slavi. Heidi and I joined up with them then made the trek across the lake to Butch and Paulines for a second round of singing and eating!
My recent favorite outdoor activity has been plying the forest for free energy, or almost free. There is nothing like driving a snow machine out into the woods, finding a beautiful dead spruce tree, slicing it into pieces and dragging it home to burn.
This is none other than my bodacious, beautiful, rugged girlfriend, traveling partner, best friend, love of my life, caring, careful, wife. I love this woman, I am still trying to figure her out, I am still trying to win her, to woo her, serve her, and learn from her. She is a great partner for this life and a great example for me and my nephews. I want to be like her when I grow up. Three years banded together and sometimes it feels like I can't remember life without her and sometimes like I'm just fresh into the relationship. She is a lover of God and me. She rises up early to spend time with our God and seek Him, I love that, a real Proverbs 31 woman if ya know what I'm talkin about.



The Grotto

Bracing myself with arms on the railing of a small tunnel and feet on the far side, I watched a massive wave crash through the entrance sloshing water in our direction. I stood petrified as Lyle, also propped up across the tunnel, was engulfed. It was our own fault for crossing the barrier into the closed section due to the massive storm ravaging the Mediterranean.
Eight days ago Lyle and I arrived in Tel Aviv, 23 hours after leaving home to find Yuval, our Israeli friend and African travel buddy, waiting for us with a smile and a car opening his home to us. We spent a few hours catching up and dining on fine Israeli fare Yuval had prepared for us. Then, as it would for the next week, jet lag took over and we both fell into a coma only to rise well before the sun the following morning. Deciding to risk the road we headed into town to pick up our rental car and spent the remainder of the day wondering around Tel Aviv. Amazingly enough we only lost ourselves once thanks to a friend who warned us that all the signs included an English transliteration but the English translation can, and does, change from street sign to street sign and from map to street sign.

After another comatose night at Yuval's we cruised up north to see some sights. First there was Ceaserea, or as the locals say Qasarea, that was entirely closed except for the ancient theater due to the foul weather (the area was wet and we could fall, therefore it was closed). Next one the agenda was Haifa, a large modern sea port town built into the side of Mt. Carmel. We tried to visit the Baha'i Gardens and again were refused entrance due to the wetness (heaven forbid we slip a little). I was actually quite disappointed because, upon arrival, we discovered that the gardens are extremely beautiful. Further down the road was Akko, a major sea port during the Arab domination of Israel complete with secret tunnels and ancient fortress walls. Then the Grotto on the Lebanon boarder, fantastic caves eroded out of the rock by continuous wave action. Again, we ran into the closed off area due to the storm. This area, however, seemed a bit more understandable as the large waves rushing into the caves sent water splashing through the majority of the tunnel system established for viewing. The sense of danger and excitement had a strong grip on us and we stepped under the rope barrier, in time with the waves, and ran further into the tunnel where we found ourselves sandwiched between to caves both allowing large quantities of water to splash up and walls and into the tunnels. They set up the barriers for visitors to be safe and dry. In the end we where safe. . .

After our treck north along the Mediterranean we navigated east to Mt. Hermon for a snowball fight near the summit then south to the Sea of Galilee and Nazareth. We visited several Biblical cites and waded in the Galilee. One of our favorite adventures was a trek through a national park that followed a stream at the bottom of a canyon. Twice we had to strip down to our skivvies, descend a skinny latter, and swim through a cold pool in order to continue our hike.

Nazareth proved to be our favorite city of the North with colorful market shops, ancient bathhouses, a village reenacting Jesus's time, and churches galore atop the holy sites.

We ended our tourer of the North by heading back to Yuval's for a splendid dinner with him and several of his friend from college. We have found that in all our travels the time we spend with people, with locals is the most rewarding and our time with Yuval has not been an exception.


Off the Road Again

On one of our endless bus journeys in Africa we met an Israeli man who explained to us how he, after months of travel filled with glorious experiences, lost his awe and wonderment at the creation around him. It was then he knew it was time to throw in the towel, head home, and wait for the wonder-lust to rebuild. His words resonate with us now. Maybe we've seen too many wonders, maybe we've been on the road too long, or maybe we know the finish line is within arms reach. Whatever the reason we have lost our wonder-lust and now the mundaneness of regular life like, sleeping in the same bed, brushing our teeth together, and regular access to TP sound exciting.

After exploring Machu Pichu we boarded yet another bus, this one bound for Lima. Twenty-one hours later we stumbled off the prison in search of a home for the night. We quickly found room at the Stop and Drop Hostel and meandered towards the beach. To our chagrin the beach was hundreds of feet below us as we peered over the edge of a rocky cliff. We chose to wander the corridors of the cliff side mall instead of paying the taxi fare over the edge. We headed to the airport, and ultimately Panama City, the next day after whiling away the hours in coffee shops eating churros and playing cards.

With only nine days in Panama we had one goal: get our chill on. The first two days of "chill" were forced on us as we had that all too familiar gurgling down below so we hung around our hostel. With Lyle still feeling a little "unsettled" we boarded our final over night bus bound for the sunny islands of Bocas Del Toro.

Bocas proved to be a beautiful Caribbean beach setting. In our efforts to take it slow we stayed four entire days, our longest in one spot since our safari in Namibia. Our general pattern is to take a very long bus ride to a new place, usually over night, arriving with very swollen feet and bad breath then spend several hours walking around until we find a satisfactory (which means cheap) place to stay which greatly helps the swollen feet. Finally, we spend one to two days max exploring the local attractions in the area before we move on with another long bus ride and repeat. We found four entire days an adjustment but Bocas provided plenty for us to do. We visited several beaches where snorkeling offered a great view of star fish, sting rays, and a plethora of fish. We also went treasure hunting for shells and coral. During one of our snorkeling ventures I found a Queen Conch shell that was not only new, radiating a beautiful color array of white, pink, orange, and yellow from its underside, but still had a creature living inside. My excitement was obvious as I have always wanted to find such a treasure. We also spent several hours walking one island in search of a cave we had heard about from a fellow traveler in Uyuni, Bolivia. We had very little success, although we did eventually find a cave, but not the one we were told about. What we did find in our walks was a sloth with baby clinging tightly to its chest. Lyle even helped free one of its hands that had gotten stuck between some branches. It probably got stuck in its haste to climb the tree upon being scared senseless by our presence, but at least we saved it.

Besides our run-ins with nature we spent a great deal of time relaxing; reading, journaling, sleeping, scratching bug bights and going for swims across the channel just off the dock of our hostel (which we found out is illegal when a local law official waved us into shore near the police station and informed us we had to take a water taxi back to our hostel). Swimming the channel was too dangerous, therefore illegal. We thought about swimming it again in an effort to get our names in the paper, but we figured it wouldn't be big enough news to make it all the way to Anchorage (sorry Jon).

On the morning of day seven we took the same ten hour bus ride, returning to Panama City. The last activity on our list was visiting the Panama Canal. We chose to see the canal by train, traveling the hour from Panama City on the Pacific side to Colon on the Caribbean side. The train ride to Colon was nice, but not as exciting as we had hoped. Colon was a different story however. As soon as we disembarked a very large man, speaking ghetto English to our great surprise, began trying to sell us a day of adventure in Colon lead by yours truly also doubling as our body guard. Although he was entertaining, his price tag was far to high for us and we explained this to him. We only wanted to walk around the town, get some breakfast, see the canal, and take a bus home. He promptly informed us that we couldn't walk around town. "As soon as you leave the train station men will jump out of those building over there and they will cut you for a few dollars and then run back in. It's like a maze in there. The police don't even go in there," he said. I had my suspicion he may have exaggerated just a little to ensure our business but Lyle's research on Colon the night before confirmed the town was "barely under police control during the day and not at all at night". So, still unable to afford the day of adventures, we simply asked for a ride to breakfast, which the big man reluctantly gave us. When we entered the chosen eatery, a simple buffet joint, we found a police officer with a sawed off shot gun with a pistol grip swinging ever so slightly at his side looking ready for instant action guarding the door and then we were convinced this was no place for a couple crackers. We ate breakfast, took a taxi to the bus station and found a bus heading back to Panama City all within an hour. We were back in Panama City by 11 am looking for the next adventure.

With the extra time we visited the Panama Canal museum and watched sailboats and huge freighters pass through one of the locks before returning to our hostel for the night.

We packed our bags for the final time this morning, our eight month trip around the world has come to an end. As I think back on all we have done, seen, and learned I am extremely thankful for this time. It has been a tremendous blessing for Lyle and I. The lessons God has taught me and the moment when I see and feel Him loving and caring for me are numerous and will be continuing to work themselves out in my life for months to come. Traveling is such a gift, we don't want to take it for granted. We have loved every minute of it. But now we are ready to go home, which is another blessing as our flight leaves in four hours! I hope there will be more travels for us in the future but for now we will be happily singing "off the road again, can't wait to get off the road again . . . " changing up Willies tune a little.

"I'm itching myself all over. I feel like a monkey."
Our new Israeli friend