Self Titled [Broken Compass]

My Dad is probably one of the most underrated hard-working people in my life. Not to sound like the beginning of a one page kindergarten “About Me” paper, written in all uppercase and some backward letters… but it happens to be true in this case. I am not saying that any other father out there can’t be as hard-working, by no means. I just know him the best and therefore he automatically wins. He has worked as hard as he could, not caring what anyone else thinks of his methods or letting anyone get in his way, and raised the four of us to be self-respecting and amazing young adults. He has shown me more than he knows that everyone, even those you deem heroes in a certain light, must always learn from life and adjust on the fly. At times it has seemed that the world is out to keep him down. He was laid off recently. Again. Buy-outs and re-organization within the company rolled through. Call it faith, or call it just knowing that when a person as strong as my dad has an obstacle to overcome in order to keep a family moving, he gets things done. I feel a little bad about it inside but I honestly didn’t even get worried. He has built himself such a support network of people who love him and who believe in him and with that force behind him, with the power of the mighty mighty Lawo’s, he takes this as another hurdle, another adventure in life.

dana board

This week I would like to pick up where I left off. February is ending. You no longer accidentally write “2013″ on your papers. The tide of new years resolution hastily-made promises has waxed and waned. Even the groundhog got himself into a slump and called for a longer winter. But one thing I have learned in my time living out East away from my roots, is that the life doesn’t care about the date you write on that paper. The adventure keeps coming, and it has been on me to make the best of it. Maybe you were single on Valentine’s Day, maybe you feel off track and that the internal life compass is busted, or maybe, completely out of your control, you broke your wrist snowboarding and suddenly feel like the year is shot in the leg. But come on! This is the new and improved “blog that used to be about geocaching, then became a show about nothing, that has since redefined itself as a channel for self-improvement! ” I am not taking no for an answer. If you have time and internet to sit here and read my blog, I have to believe that you have the capability to make the most of what’s around you! So do what I would do. Listen to more music. Log a few geoaches. then do what it takes to get back on track.

I won’t drown you in promising cliche sayings. I have just seen a lot of people overcoming lately and I felt like sharing. I will however hit you with the…


MUSIC OF THE WEEK: This week I got some new special edition green and gold vinyl. The band is Dispatch, and they have done nothing new lately as a band, but if you want to hear some amazing melodies at work and be reminded of how to relax, give it a try. I have no more words on that. Hopefully some happy music helps if happy is what you are looking for. If you just need as much music as you can get maybe you need something more. BLAM! Bonnaroo music lineup was announced in style this past week. Now, more than ever, is the time to radiate positivity!


I have not been geocaching much lately (surprise!!) but I do have a trip planned to Portland, OR, coming up now! Who knows, maybe I will detour to smiley on the world’s original cache! Anything can happen, right? excited none-the-less. On an unrelated note, I am drinkinga two dollar bottle of wine that had a pry off top. I couldn’t find a wine glass crappy enough to hold it, so bottle night it is! Why do I blog again? Happy Hump Day!!

I will keep it short-ish this time around and wrap things up. Feel free to comment below if you have any relevant stories to share. I put up another new comic background this time around to keep the masses happy. In honor of the potential return of an incredible TV series, enjoy some Heroes. And If you are the one who broke your wrist and are feeling down about it, who knows, it’s all part one of the most awesome years of your life! I have a feeling it will all work itself out. Follow the ride.


Peas Frogs,


My dad starts his new job Monday. He used some of his ever-growing networking he’s got built up and is back with a great company and might even have management possibilities again on the horizon.

The compass does work. Follow it.

The 4-Hour Blog Post: Looking Forward


I debated calling this one, New Years Resolution. That’s sort of cliché though right? Not that it wouldn’t have been quite appropriate in its own right. I find that the whole concept of the new years resolution is pretty spot on with the definition of cliché, at least the part of the definition involving the “lack of original thought” or something of the sort. It has become, in my opinion, almost as commercial as Christmas or Valentine’s Day anymore. I suppose that isn’t a terrible thing though to want to go from feeling like a college dropout to a having the new workout plan (Kanye?). As annoying as it may be to deal with a month of twice as many sweaty bodies in your hot yoga class, or listening to people tell you they are going to start this trendy new diet “next week”, it’s still a step in a positive direction! Just make sure your focus is not solely immediate self-gratification if you can. This tangent is to present to you why the name of this blog entry changed, as if you would for some reason care about that… now back to your regularly scheduled programming.


I’d like to thank all of those responsible for this blog and especially you, the fans, for bringing us so far on our journey through the world-wide webs. This paragraph marks the kick-off of first entry of a brand new year and more importantly, the blogs official induction into the mile-high club. I am blogging from an US Airways flight from Charlotte to Providence, RI. They are sending me up for another meeting at the nuke plant up there and I opted to make the best of some down time. It seemed like a fun idea and so far so good. I figure if I can type this out now and on the return flight, I could have myself a literal four-hour blog, which turns out to be a most perfect segue into the second paragraph of 2014.


Have you heard of this guy, Tim Ferriss? He’s a fella from New York who went about creating this inspiring “four-hour” mindset, or way of approaching life, complete with three wildly popular #1 best-selling books as the icing on the cake. Now he’s even got his own show airing soon on HLN. I am not really sure what sets him apart from the other motivational talking heads out there, other than that a book, “The Four Hour Body”, was recommended to me by someone I happen to trust and I dug into it a little and liked what I found. This has kind of been the fuel powering this new experimental self-improvement kick I have been on. I admit, I have historically been a bit lazy about changing habits and tracking changes and making positive changes that take different degrees of commitment in my life. So now, due to a recent mix of inspirational findings, that Life Map I tried to spell out for you all and some special people in my life, I’m working on a new approach. No, this is not a new years resolution. I am not going to tell you that starting with the ringing in of the new year, I am diving into a strict new 4-hour diet and, partaking in and rigorously following the P90X program (good golly, that 17 minutes of core work caught me off guard!), becoming an expert downhill mountain biker or vowing to go cold turkey and stop biting my nails or anything like that. I am just making an effort, in light of this experimental mentality and the underlying theme of exploration that I try to follow with these blog entries (sometimes), to begin a constant and evolving learning process about what I do, what I can do and why. I am trying parts of different diets I have heard about to see what sort of meals can come of that. I even made tacos last week using vegetarian ground beef. weird. I am losing a little weight here and there, trying some kind of workouts that I hadn’t given a shot before and hoping to end up with some sort of schedule. I have a promise to myself that I am going to take seriously this biking idea I have talked about for years. I am signing up to get certified to SCUBA dive in Thailand (booked the tickets!!! Hell yeah!!!). In general I am trying learn as much as possible, so that without having to follow this or that persons set of rules, I can make they way I want to live my life a better one and know what’s going on with it.

maybe p90x doesnt get the result i am looking for exactly...

maybe p90x doesn’t get the result i am looking for exactly…

It really seems to be paying off. This 2014 is shaping up to be a pretty swell year. I can’t think of a better way to have kicked it all off than being home in Saint Louis with my favorite family in the whole world, and counting down the ball drop and sneaking a new years kiss with my favorite girl in the world. I attended a holiday brunch with one of the most amazing 97-year-old women I have ever known and only to be a great-great-grandmother I can say I have known. Only thing I can think of that would have made it better was if the cardinals were playing in town and Dave Matthews was there to play songs and throw the first pitch. I can even argue that going out in sub-freezing temperatures to the St. Louis Zoo on a Sunday afternoon only to take a picture of some of us cousins next to a bronze statue of the late Phil the Gorilla was a meaningful experience and sort of initiation process or family acceptance of a new person in my life. Or how about this one, I like to think that riding that weird star trek looking elevator up to the top of the arch, the gateway to the west, with Dana was my little symbolism for new beginnings. It’s something I haven’t even considered doing since I was in probably grade school (Who tours monuments in their own city?). So for one now maybe it is an admission (however hard it is to believe) of having moved away and of having started something new and awesome out here in beautiful Central Virginia. Who knows, maybe I stretch a bit in this blogs, but who are you to step on my freedom to make analogies?

monkey pic

Aren’t we awesome??

MUSIC OF THE WEEK: As a response to my lack of being on the ball and missing my shot to see these guys again live up near DC, I’m giving the music shout out this week to the Avett Brothers. If you are still out of this loop, It’s not to late to give it a shot. I can’t imagine there’s not at least something in their folksy lyrically genius catalog that won’t touch you somehow. Plus who can turn down some knee slappin’ foot stomping Carolina tunes? If I have used this band on the blog before, sorry I don’t really care.


Oh and Miley! I didn’t forget you! ;) Listening to Lorde is just a phase I swear.

GEOCACHE OF THE WEEK: Here’s another cache that took me a couple of trips and more than a little frustration to log the smiley. Un Carouselle Magnifique! on the Charlottesville mall can now finally stop bugging me. I don’t vouch for this one being especially tricky but any of you in the game can agree that when you are stuck looking at it all wrong and then that light bulb finally goes off and, boom, instant find, you are not going to be quick to forget the experience!

Best Christmas present I got, you ask? Good question. A little nosy of you as well, if I may say. As much as I can’t wait to sport my new Molina jersey at games in DC, Baltimore and Saint Louis (fingers crossed on all three of those) and I am going to say that the frames for my bottle-caps makes me the happiest. Without it even being meant in such a way, it spells out the new me I am trying to work on, nearly word for word. It not only forces me to actually use all those bottle caps I have randomly collected and been lazy about for years now, but it also has me getting my hands dirty learning what it takes to put it together and arranging the caps, all under the knowledge that the end result is something that is unique an extremely “me”.  please feel free to share your own “most favoritest” Christmas present in the comments below!

As this entry comes to a close I must admit that I did not have this one complete ready to publish by the end of that second flight. It was more of an undertaking than I foresaw, typing on my small tablet in those cramped coach seats. Plus who wants to pay the fee for wireless for a two-hour flight to upload one entry? I don’t know how many hours actually did go in to its creation but don’t let that make you miss the point. Maybe you picked up a little something along the way here, or maybe not. Hopefully you had a fun time reading at least. And don’t forget to tune in next time! Until then feel free to radiate some positivity! 122 days till bonnaroo returns to the farm. BLAM!


Peas frogs.

BlogArt. Episode 3


So maybe it’s not all that original, but it fills space on the blog right? I need to stop doing this at such ridiculous hours in the morning. I am not going to miss working the vampire shifts for a while… It’s finally my last night shift of the year, and second to last shift in the great state of South Carolina! Bring on the holiday season and I will see you all on the other side! Here’s to me finding a cache this morning to help me roll back over to the life of the day-people!


Coming in 2014: The “Smart”blog


Happy New Years to you all! I am calling it now. The thing of 2014 is going to be asking so-and-so if they have seen the new smart-whatever. It is only a week into the new year and, with a little help from the CES presentations in Vegas, I have already seen the beginning of an explosion of smart watches, smart kitchens, smart grills, smart tennis racquets, smart cars and who knows what else. If a little computer chip fits inside of it then you just watch, it’ll have apps. Now if I can only get a patent for smart-twerking before MTV gets in my way!

For what it’s worth, this blog was going to be called “The Best Stuff of 2013″. I abruptly changed my mind after I saw every other blog and website on the internet beat me to it. How many people are going to pretend they get the right to give our the best movie and best album of the year awards. It is interesting though to look for the consistencies and using a little detective work, find what the general public does actually agree on. But alas, that is not what I plan to do here. Instead I am just going to do what everyone else is doing and throw some greatest hits according to Dan your way until you get bored, because that seems to be how this blog works. Sit back and remember with me. This is a collection of some of the best stuff I can think of that was, and now will forever be, from 2013.

BEST MOVIE: I think the only movies I saw this year worth a mention are Catching Fire, Gravity and Iron Man 3. I didn’t really get out and see many movies, so if I am off the mark here a little bit I’m sorry. Who wants to Redbox every movie from the years top 20 with me? I’d love that. This is not a review blog anyway. If you disagree then feel free to comment but since you’re most likely too lazy to open a WordPress account to do so, enjoy keeping your thoughts to yourself.


BEST DRINK: Firefly shots. to the face. If you don’t remember them then you did it right.

BEST ONLINE SUBSCRIPTION SERVICE: Move over Netflix! I recently read online about this company called Quarterly. They are sort of just a middle-man really. You use their platform to pick from a list of curators with whom you are going to trust your personal subscription service. You then pay 50 bucks every quarter (every 3 months) and in return, every quarter you get something in the mail. What you end up getting is completely up to your curator. The person or group you chose can be professional athletes, YouTube channel hosts, tech blog writers, TV show hosts, or whatever. The point is it is someone that you think you might be able to agree with and trust, but that’s all you really know until you give it a shot. I promise I did not get together with Zach, founder and CEO of this clever little start-up, but coincidentally his mystery-subscription-plan, my unbelievably awesome blog, and life all seem to run along this same thread. I think Forrest Gump said it best


BEST MUSIC THING: this one goes to my experience at bonnaroo. I won’t bore you with more words here because I promise, I am not obsessed. I will only say that if you want to know what I am talking about then I shall see you on the farm this June! It’s official, the tickets are already purchased :)

Did you know that vinyl record sales went up 33% in 2013? I didn’t either.

BEST BREWERY: This is not going to be my opinion of the best tasting beer I put down during this past year (although that could be fun too). I am instead going to use this spot to humbly plug the brew group that I am a part of and help brew about once a month. We call ourselves “American Pale Males (and a Chocolate Mocha Stout)” or APM. If you haven’t seen or tried any of our stuff than you probably haven’t drank at my apartment or asked me for a bottle because you aren’t going to find it anywhere else. But, really, it is pretty good stuff. Come hang out sometime!

BEST GEOCACHE: It wasn’t my best year but I had some fun and kept the ball rolling. Since the cache near the top of the pass along the Inca trail was technically last year (by a few days) I have to give the honor to “Shafted” here in Central Virginia. This was at the end of an 11 mile hike along Big Rocky Row just north of the James River on the AT. We had to go out of the way a little bit but the reward was a belly crawl under an old fence, a hike down an old abandoned mine shaft, sneaking past sleeping bats that may or may not have scared me a little, a wade across knee deep freezing cold water and an underground staircase. Well worth it for the smiley :)


BEST TECH THING: This year was a pretty good battle between iPhones, smartwatches, new gaming consoles, web connected TVs and fun cameras and other toys. The one thing that I saw someone else get for Christmas and suddenly wished it was for me, the little dongle that is called Google Chromecast, is getting my vote (without putting much real thought into it). I am very curious to try it, but if it really turns my 5 year old TV into an internet TV then it’s a win for sure.

BEST ART THING = Did anyone catch Banksy’s run on New York City? Or peek at how Dasha Battelle opted to create snapchat art, or what my friend @monkeyshrike does with his instagram posts and legos? Heard about the ever evolving walls at the bonnaroo music festival or the insane ideas that come out of Burning Man? Does any of this compare to things like this?

BEST YOUTUBE VIDEO: not so surprisingly, pop music videos dominate the top lists on youtube. This is not a bad thing really, but it’s not what I am trying to show here. I am trying to celebrate the creativity and inventive-ness that YouTube was built on and promotes. If I want the years best music videos we already have the VMAs. I respect that many artists lately are curbing their videos more towards a computer audience and thinking more outside the box but still, the videos I recognize as the best of a year are the home grown things that cant take root in any other sort of media world. No I am talking YouTube awards. I am talking about the people who didn’t exist before their short video was submitted online. Here’s a not very well thought out top three, but do check out YouTube’s end of the year wrap up or the Youtube awards in your free time!

BEST COOL THING SOMEONE DID: Tie for first between BatKid and the Mastectemy Dance

BEST BOOK: Here’s my thing on books. I am newer to getting back into the book world and loving it like a kid in a candy shop. Yes, I know, I listen to them I don’t read them as words on paper but leave it alone, it’s the same damn thing. Mostly I am using Audible, playing catch up but I have sort of been keeping an eye on the books coming out this year. Let’s try something different here, I am going to pick three with potential and then whichever you vote for is going to be the next one I go for:

  • Lumineers
  • Alegient (Book 3 of the Divergent Trilogy)
  • Goldfinch


BEST AUDIOBOOK (because that’s what I do): The Ender’s Game re-release as an audio play. I love what Audible is doing for the world of audio books. It really is awesome.

Sorry I probably lost most of my audience there with all that book talk…

BEST SPORTS THING: America’s epic but underexposed comeback to win the America’s Cup, the oldest trophy in international sport.


BEST WAY TO RING IN THE NEW YEAR: This is just going to be my subtle way of letting you know how I spent the final night, dining and drinking out on Washington Avenue in St. Louis with one of my good college buddies and with the love of my life, AKA Dan #2, AKA the best thing to happen to me in 2013 (yes I can be sappy, get over it). I wouldn’t make a change to the night if I could. I will say, however, that a dueling piano bar really captures the ball-drop mood quite well!

BEST THING IN THE NEWS: I am going to blatantly cheat here and just drop a whole bunch of things here. This one was tough but I find it critical to a year right? I will leave you with a string of nonsensical words and then we shall move one. Don’t spend too much time.

bostonmarathon mandela harlemshake newpope syriagasattack zimmermantrial royalbaby obamacare twerking russianmeteorite margretthatcher paulwalker tsunami kingrichardIII amandaberry NSAleaks drones governmentshutdown cairoprotests breakingbad labgrownburger DOMA gluten snapchat bitcoin mantiteogirlfriend sharknado redwedding oscarpistorius

Finally here’s some related links. summer 2013, best in the world,

The blog comes to a close. The year starts to fade. Silence sets in. The needle floats casually to the center of the record and all of 2013 comes to a stop. To continue please flip record over. I can already tell. 2014 is going to be incredible. I hear all the hits are on side 2.



Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.

-Abraham Lincoln


So If you haven’t picked up on the hints, I am extremely excited for my upcoming journey to Thailand. This one has been on my to-do list for 5 years or so now, ever since I realized the plus side of having an uncle working for the United Nations, stationed out that way. I am looking to lock down the specifics soon and make it a reality as soon as possible. I have even been wandering the Google Play store in search of the perfect apps to prepare myself for the experience (me? go figure, right?). Even found this incredible FREE app, Duolingo, for learning a new language in an interesting sort of way. You run through these rapid fire quizzes and challenges to collect points and badges and compete against friends. A sort of Words With Friends with some value to it. Unfortunately they do not (yet?) offer Thai as an option so it was sort of a dead-end on that front, not that I don’t plan to explore it further in my down time.

But I do have a list though. An “eternal to-do list”. A “bucket list“. It sucks though… Well, I guess it doesn’t really suck, (and I pinky-swear not to use any more dumb adjectives like that again) and it actually does have plenty of adventurous, outgoing and expensive adventures when it comes down to it. I’ve even checked off a few. It’s just flimsy, that’s all. Dana was asking me, or maybe I was asking her but either way it came up, about a bucket list of sorts. We shared a couple of past accomplishments, drooled over a few aspirations, and even promised to knock a couple out together, and then that was that. Typical I suppose. Only in my head the wheels kept turning, as then tend to do lately.

old mitty

Did you know that the term “bucket list” was invented along with the Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman flick of the same name? Whether you’ve seen it or not, I’d bet you know that, when faced with imminent sickness and death, the two get together and come up with a list of things to do before they, you know, kick the bucket, die. The concept has been around for ages but the phrase came out of Hollywood in 2007. I also discovered that just this year a veteran of the idea passed away after an unbelievable 88 1/2 years of life. John Goddard  wrote his list at age fifteen, 127 mouth-watering goals and it seems that he ticked off an impressive 109 of them and made some waves in doing so. It seems he would be the man most synonymous with these “life lists”, a slightly more upbeat term that appears to be trending lately. Cheers to you, John, and peas be with you. You’ve got the Walter Mitty in all of us respecting the legacy you’ve left behind.

“Life list” has a much nicer ring to it wouldn’t you say? Maybe having a list of random things to do before you die sounds a bit morbid, sure, but I can get past that. The newly dubbed bucket list is just a life plan given a bad wrap due to its death-centric etymology. “Before you die” is simply  the inarguable deadline in completing such a list. This does not make this tragic end the focus of the plan any more than a marathon is wholly about breaking the plane at mile marker 26.2 or breaking a piece of ribbon. It’s what you take from the journey that gives the list, the race, any worth at all. So let’s go with “life list” for now, a trail map to define your life.


OK, I’ll skip over the life and death psychology associated with the idea for your sake. And I won’t bore you with a tedious list of things I am looking to do in an effort to inspire a twinkle of amazement in your eye or that bitter taste of jealousy. I’m honestly no one to aspire to be really, and plus, you’re going to hear the meat of it following my blog as it is! Here’s what I want to do: I want to start from scratch, and I encourage you all to consider trying the same. I am working on a sort of set of guidelines for a legitimate, and I will stick to the cliché term for now, bucket list, but with some meat to it. I don’t want a self-serving checklist to seem or feel exotic or impressive for the sake of… what?

Come to think of it, life list is still a shade vague so what the hell, I’m coining a new term for this purpose, lame as it may seem. Try “life-map” on for size, and don’t go run a search online and tell me I am stealing the idea from Oprah. This is not some “Pinterest” collage of beautiful words and images that make our hearts tickle and there is no surprise vacation give-away at the end. This is to be my plan, and one I intend to stand by, until… well until I kick the bucket.

I want criteria for every way-point along the trail. Some thought put in you know? Every goal on the list has to be thought out to carry any weight. There needs to be an event, some sort of cost, a legitimate reason, and then a concrete outcome like a connection made, a lesson learned or a desired effect on myself or the world (getting too deep?). Then, in the end, I want a story to tell. Take my last entry about the Inka Trail, for example. I am not talking about a list of achievements or bragging rights, I am talking about the sort of story you hear in tale of yester-year, epics that outlive the teller, something along the lines of the yarn spun up by that guy, Kvothe, of the Kingkiller Chronicle.


And above and beyond all that, I want it to be a process to get on my list. I want to live my days brainstorming on ways I can improve this map. I want awe-inspiring ideas and potential life-defining events lining up for their initiation process and approval. This is, and very much should be, a living document with my own personal “annual map updates”, for those still hanging on to their Garmin GPS unit and catch my drift. I want to be able to visualize myself checking each milestone of as a sanity check, bounce it off people I care about for reinforcement or encouragement. To make my cut these goals are going to need to:

-check one, or more, of the following-

  • promote happiness (in an Aristotelian sort of way)
  • radiate positivity (for those followers of the bonnaroovian code),
  • create shared adventure (is yours not worth sharing?)
  • build on a respectable sort of knowledge (can be in your own opinion)
  • start or strengthen connections


Is this still really a to-do list? Am I blowing this out of proportion? I don’t think so. These can still be personal goals or adventurous feats of strength or courage. I think I just want a more complete or real plan for entertaining the idea. I am here trying to inspire you guys, as is often my goal here if you were wondering, though I may sometimes suck at it (whoops, sorry about that dumb adjective again). So take from me, here and now, a two-part promise. Part one says I will make this list at all and please hold me to this. Part two is for me to share with you my epic. Take this as a special announcement. From here on one of the focuses of this blog is to release my version of the life stories that come of creating this road map. The stories, the legacy that lives on, at least here on these pages, are what matter.

The blog isn’t changing all that much, and the better news is that I would imagine you don’t really mind if it does. I’m just moving towards holding some sort of themes or categories, as WordPress seems to encourage. BlogArt. These Life Map stories, Geocache Reviews, and then the rants covering my favorite music, themes and fun links that the nation loves! All becoming their own unique posts but working together to create your life’s GPS, all little blog entry drops in the same Bucket.

peas out frogs, and carry on.


Here’s examples of a respectable take on the idea: mightygirl or this fast company article.

Here’s a site full of positivity on the genre: bucket ideas


Late Entry: An Inka Story

Having a go at a travel blog entry.  I didn’t really read any other takes on this trip for guidance, so pardon me if I get lost in it… Oh, right. It is my story of hiking the Inca Trail last winter. Go ahead and enjoy:

If you are thinking of knocking this one off the bucket list, just try to keep in mind these three pieces of advice: Plastic (poncho material) stops water. Everything else that you think should and looks way cooler, does not stop water. Try to learn a little about what you are really getting yourself into and where you are truly going. Take a guided tour  from Cuzco or read a book before you hit the trail. Oh, and also, hiking on a steep trail with a pack at high elevations, really is harder than that training hike you did back home, but that is okay, you got this! For any other real or maybe more practical advice or trip reviews go look it up on the internet it yourself, there is a lot of good stuff out there. So… let me set the scene for you:

IMG_20131121_105756 It’s very late December in 2012. Summertime. Actually, in Peru, I’m told it is better known as the middle of the rainy season. My buddies and I recently packed away the shorts and flip-flops and caught a flight up from the lowland Amazon Rainforest region of the country where we had the unique pleasure of celebrating Christmas with our fun-loving “5-minute-friends” at a riverside Eco-lodge. Things are vastly different for us now in and around the city of Cuzco, at a staggering 11,000+ feet above sea level.  A city known to many as one of the premiere highland adventure base camps, culturally rich in its Spanish/Incan history and its tourist crowds from every reach of the globe. Coincidentally it’s also home to the world’s highest Irish-owned pub and delicious cui (guinea pig), that one we checked out for ourselves soon after arriving. We have spent the past few days exploring by tour van the rolling and majestic Andes mountains, winding river valleys and mystic ruins of what is known as the Scared Valley, previously home to the center of Incan empire of lore. The guided tours have bounced us up winding passes, through still thriving mountain villages of the native Quechua people, to ancient structures still standing and forming the foundation of life in the region. I can already tell that this is on pace to be one of the more memorable trips to date for me personally. I run through our jam-packed itinerary again in my head as I jot some thoughts from the day down in our Twitter-style handwritten journal we had all agreed to keep, and I am still amazed at how much we opted to squeeze in, and how much I am testing myself both physically and mentally. Before this journey I laughed when Ryan told me I could pack for two and a half weeks in one 46L Osprey internal frame pack (and get it through security as just a carry on). What I couldn’t know then, that I know now, is what was to come of the next 4 days of my journey. It is the prime reason we, and most adventurers, take this trip at all. I close the journal and slip it back into it’s waterproof zip-lock and back into my pack. Check the bag once more for weight and contents. Then settle into my dorm style bed for the best sleep I can manage to get, before our 4:30AM wake-up call and 3 hour bus ride to the trail-head of the Inca Trail where our journey continues on foot to one of the world’s wonders, Machu Picchu. IMG_20121226_190558 The first day was a whirlwind to say the least. We were scooped up from our hotel by more of the Spanish and Quechua speaking guides. This particular morning had us riding a bus out to a town built on Ollytantambo (more ancient Incan ruins of course) for breakfast, poncho purchasing and a quick final briefing. From there to the entrance to the UNESCO park entrance and trail-head we wound along some the most narrow country roads you could imagine, even playing chicken with a local in his pick-up truck for a few minutes on a particularly narrow stretch. We all get out. Our team’s staff show up (very late) and we start making the final arrangements among the hundred or so other anxious hikers.  It is already mind-boggling watching how much weight these porters pile on before they run off to take the lead. We herd through the gates and passport stamping, over the suspended narrow bridge dangling over the wildly rushing Urubamba River, and then it starts raining.

I am going to cut away from the story again just for one more second. I wanted to save some time down the road because I am not sure how long this story is going to drag on… Instead of starting every third or fourth sentence with “and then it starts raining” or “while soaked to the bone,” just always assume that it is raining or has recently rained. OK then, carry on.

It’s not even “The” Inca Trail really. That is the first thing everyone tells us. It has been commercialized as such but in reality is one of the many of a massive unbelievable network of trails and roads crisscrossing what was once the great nation of the Incas. Many tour sites and online explanations will refer to Day One the “easy day” and said in so few words, it is. Just be careful not to let this lead you to believe that it is a blow-off day. You put in some miles and gain a bit of elevation, but more importantly, if you pay attention, you truly do get a sense of your journey beginning. You very clearly see yourself go almost through a portal into another dimension, the world of an ancient time, separated through time from even the new and foreign Peruvian world that has welcomed you so far on your vacation. Throughout the day, roadside farms, concession stands and shops with children and livestock watching from the roadside, slowly devolve into an occasional passing farmer or a simple watering hole for use as a rest stop. You are still a hiker, still exploring as you set out to, there is no magic or literal transformation here, it just really helps to understand where you are and who may have been walking these paths throughout history. Already you will see some incredible sites and ruins along the trail. Most are views from a far at this point but it’s still only the beginning. Andes1 You get in to “camp”, really just a clearing outside of and above a small village, and that’s when you first realize the value of the porters and staff. It really is incredible how conditioned they are and prepared to help anyone and everyone on the journey. They have a dinning hall, kitchen, everyone’s tent and even water for hand washing all in place before we even see where we are stopping for the night. Showing up at that first campsite, the first view of snow-capped mountains in the distance, and a little winded, it finally set in for me. Day two they call “the challenge.” Again I will not argue with this. If you need to chew some coca leaves, now is the time. Here’s the thing. This is the day you were probably training for when you went out on those two practice hikes back home. I am not going to pretend that I am some super hiker and that I am normally ready for anything and then this bad boy took me by surprise. I do enjoy day hiking in my Appalachian mountains when I can, but admittedly I am not in the greatest shape of my life. That being said I will say, for the sake of the average reader of my blog, this is an intense bit of hiking. I will offer this: I met a guy back in the rainforest from Australia who was traveling the world with his buddy. He told me a story and we all laughed. It was something along the lines of him getting near the notorious highest point of the Inca trail (they had hiked it about a week before meeting us) and he was so exhausted and hit by the elevation that he was literally choosing landmarks 10 and 15ft ahead, hiking to them and then stopping for air (the punchline of his story was funnier, sorry, but those are the facts that stuck in my head).  I sized him up and figured him for about my activity level and then wrote it off thinking he was over-dramatizing for effect. Nope. That was me, embarrassingly enough, pretty much exactly as he had described. I have heard it said that working your body to a point of near total exhaustion, heart pounding, short of breath, muscles weak, in order to accomplish a personal self goal is one of the greatest feelings in life. I am not sure I am on this train 100% but now having experienced the feeling at times such as, among others, sprinting the last 300 meters of my first cross-country race, making it to the top of Sharp Tooth after nine days back-country packing in New Mexico, and now hiking up and through Dead Woman’s Pass on the Inca Trail in the freezing wind and sleet at ~14,000ft, I can see where they are coming from. I think it has a little to do with the eerie silence and self focus near the top… but I digress. The pass is like both the halfway point in the 4-day hike and the hike’s crest that lets you know it’s all downhill (not exactly) from here. If you take this same hike and don’t get winded, I am not sorry. You are missing the point. It’s about personal achievement. You can read all the sites and blogs online and be perfectly ready, even over-prepared, for a trip like this but if you aren’t going to mentally immerse yourself into the adventure, if you aren’t going to push yourself a bit past your goals now and then, this blog is probably going right over your head. You don’t have to be out of breath. It doesn’t have to be at 14,000 feet. You don’t have to be in another country. Just get to where you want to be, and then go just past that. It’s worth it, I promise. Where I wanted to be was at the top of pass and not be bringing up the rear.  Where I pushed myself beyond that (cue the blog’s theme music) was 100 meters higher than the guide will take you, and off over a ridge to a lock & lock normal size geocache hidden in a great clearing, fully exposed to the ripping cold and freezing rain. Again this is my personal achievement, make yours yours. IMG_20121231_201741 The day truly does run all downhill from there. It’s noticeably colder on the other side at first though. We have now apparently crossed from the Brown Andes to the Green Andes (we will soon see once we come down out of the clouds) and the mood of the trip really does change. That theme of the devolving environment, started on day one, has continued to a point nearly unrecognizable. Aside from porters, a wild llama or two and bits and pieces of other trekking groups, we see no signs of modern civilization. Over the past two days almost all of the few structures that we do still see are 500+ years old and long left to the wrath of the highland jungle. And it does get greener. We descend into a beautiful green, almost rainforest type fauna. The mist rolling over every view is as the pictures you have seen on the internet suggest. Camp tonight is exhausting to say the least, but there’s still time for some delicious food, warm tea and a few quick rounds of Farkle (our trips game of choice). The third day is deceptive in my opinion. And also very very wet, but I guess that’s circumstantial. I forget what “they” call this day but I would have to say that is was one of my least and most favorite periods of the trek. We are all being honest here so I will just come out and say that the morning of day three was not fun. Sure when it rains it pours, but also in the mountains, when it rains you see nothing. It’s a lot of “here’s where there often is an amazing panoramic view of –insert some awesome naturally gorgeous thing here–” and we all pause to rest our legs and sort of gaze off into the grey fog and imagine what could be, sort of like reading a scene in a book with not enough adjectives, describing something that isn’t really very well tied into the main plot. I would still recommend that this trek be attempted during or maybe ideally just after the heart of the rainy season though. The steep green vistas and rushing waterfalls everywhere you look make it all worth the boots that never seem to dry out. It sort of became a running joke for us then, and in the end it hardly took away anything from the trip. Then by lunchtime it was like the sky and the world opened up. Thank you sun. I think I have some idea as to why the Incas might have worshiped you. I wont go into huge detail here as I am sure you catch my drift. IMG_20130101_191221 The ruins get cooler at this point too. Cooler, I guess is a word for it… more involved is a better description. Suddenly you aren’t stopping on the side of the trail listening to your guide point out a temple or some irrigation terraces over there on that hill and explaining their use, but instead find yourself climbing over and through temples, navigating stepped terraces sill maintained somehow and wandering past or under ancient stone guard posts set up on the route to the Lost City.  It is hard not to be reminded of what all this hiking is really for. The feeling of nearness to the conclusion of this journey that you have Googled (Bing-ed?) a hundred times over the past few months sets in. You can tell already that all those pictures, and words like “Quechua,” “Inka” and “llama” will forever ring a different and secret tune to you and you are about to find out why. Just one night away now. Camp comes again as a relief. I forgot to explain why I call this day deceptive, but you will very quickly figure out that little riddle. The challenge day may cross that 14,000ft pass, but combining the insanely steep ups and downs of day three (did I mention to definitely rent walking sticks?), I wouldn’t be surprised if the terrain is actually a bit tougher overall, minus the oxygen deficiency of course, and that is a huge minus. It makes it fun though. At this point you have proven yourself. Doubts of not making it or losing yourself are becoming a memory of the past. Now it’s more about showing off to an invisible audience (yourself?). “Look what I have learned I can do. I can hike the Inca Trail! I’m going to get that world-famous Facebook picture of me standing at Machu Picchu, bitches!” incatrail_elevation_map The guides, now your latest “5-minute-friends,” have walked you through the early wake up and the final approach. Then it’s the day. Of course we all decide to take the optional super early side hike to watch the dawn’s early light creep over the gorgeous ruins of Winyuwana, nestled in the mountainside basically across the river from the still invisible peak that is Machu Picchu. If you’re doing it at all, do it all, right? It makes for a nice final tease before the finale, but also a difficult shot to capture in low light conditions with a smartphone, as if any of the photos that came back on my Android truly capture any of the true essence.  And then we head out. Compared to the lengthy trails we have just conquered, the final leg seems like a walk in the park. Floating mostly on adrenaline and excitement we practically run the 1 1/2 hour trail to our final destination. By the time we reach the entrance, perched high over the ever famous vista, I truly feel like I have earned the right to check this one off the list. We wait for the last stragglers to catch up and write a few thoughts and comments in the twitter-journal (140 characters or less of course), while the morning mist is still fresh. Then, at last and together, we step through the literal finish line to our four-day journey, the Incan Sun Gate, the entrance to the Lost City in the Clouds. Watch out, you fresh of the bus, one-day tourists. Thru hikers, coming through…


* except for the elevation trail map, all pictures taken or drawn myself. hope you like!

peas frogs!