My Bucket List of Thrills

I long ago created a list in my mind of the five daring feats I wanted to complete in my lifetime. They were in no particular order at the time, to jump out of a plane, parasail, paraglide, bungee jump, and zip line. The first one that I accomplished was to jump out of a plane. I had a friend in the Air Force and while visiting him in North Carolina, he informed me that he had begun a skydiving school and wanted to take me up. The following day, I mustered up my courage, listened to the lesson, practice jumped off a picnic table (not sure that was convincing), and the next morning I was crowded into a plane full of skydivers. Back then, they were not doing tandem, so I would be jumping alone and being a beginner, would come out of the plane at 10,000 feet on a tether. The tether being what would pull my chute at the end of a 200-foot freefall. I steeled my courage as I approached the open door of the plane and then summoned my innards to stay put. I not only managed to exit the plane, there had been some doubt, but I thoroughly enjoyed the rush and then the reassuring opening of my chute and the reasonably gentle ride to the ground. Number one was off my list.

Parasailing came next. I had arranged a family trip with my wife and two young daughters to Mexico. On day two of our trip, the parasail boat pulled up to our beach. The girls were definitely game, my wife was not, but after a brief negotiation, more so with my wife than the boat driver, we were harnessed up and getting ready to be launched from the back of the boat. My daughters were first and went tandem. Watching from the back of the boat I caught myself wondering why I had had to wait so long to do this. They sailed for some time and eventually were winched back in and then it was my turn. They hooked me in and away I went. Some seventy feet in the air, I felt an urge to show off for my daughters. I would pull on the harness and swoop from one side and then back to the other. It was on one of these graceful swoops that I looked down at my harness and suddenly realized that I was hooked to the tow rope, not with a locking carabiner, but rather a simple S-Hook. I decided it might be time to sit still, very still. Again, I survived, and the experience was well worth the time and the money. Number two had been completed.

It would be another thirteen years before I got a chance for my next bucket list feat. My older daughter and I were in Columbia visiting my younger daughter who was spending the summer in an internship for study abroad. We had barely settled in when my younger daughter informed us that she had arranged a paraglide adventure for later in the week. Paragliding, unlike parasailing, is done without any connection to the ground. It is in actuality, flying sans an engine. We would at least be flying tandem with an experienced pilot, interpretation here, a thrill junkie. Our glide would take off from the edge of a three-thousand-foot cliff, ten-thousand feet up a mountain. Our lesson, all five minutes of it, consisted of three commands that our non-English speaking pilot had learned, possibly sometime during the five-minute lesson. The first command was “walk”, the second was “run”, and the third was “sit”. I was ready, or so said my daughter, and the pilot said “walk”. So I walked, waiting for the next command, to run, all the while noticing that we were terribly close to the edge. “SIT” screamed the pilot. My mind, already racing, was asking what the heck happened to “run”. Fortunately for both of us, the pilot was so forceful in his command, I sat! And in that instant, we were airborne. For the next fifteen minutes we literally soared like a bird. We would turn on edge and drop several hundred feet only to turn again and gracefully sail upward on the updrafts coming from the valley below. There are no words to describe the sensation. The flight ended far too soon. As I checked off number three, I promised myself I would find some way to do this again. Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened, but then I’m not done yet.

This morning, as I awoke to our third day on the Island of Kauai in Hawaii, I was greeted by Larry, our traveling guru, with “Do you want to go zip lining? There is an opening if we get there in the next ten minutes.” My response was immediate, “Of Course!” or some slightly more colorful version of that. We got to the Koloa Zip Line Company in time to join our group of fellow zip liners. We would be doing eight different zip lines ranging in length from 400 feet to the last one at 2,600 feet, half a mile. We were told that on the last zip line, we would hit a speed of 54 miles per hour. I was stoked (apologies for the obvious reference to my age). I was also nervous, but that soon turned to excitement. With each zip line accomplished, confidence grew. Where there was hesitation on the take off for the first zip line, it became wanting to go before the guide was even ready to let you go on the remaining lines. Each line offered the chance to try a different technique. Though I balked on the first chance to go superman (on your stomach, arms outstretched in flying mode), the next chance up, I agreed, got strapped in, and took off. Our guides were incredible, they kept us safe, challenged us to try new techniques, and bonded us as a group. As with paragliding, it ended all too soon. I had flown over a valley, a gorge, and canopies of trees. I had a blast. Number four, done.

I still have number five out there. My wife says, “And that’s where it will stay!”, but we will see. I have climbed a mountain, made it to the top of Half Dome, albeit via the trail and cables, and have so far accomplished four out of the five thrill feats I decided on so long ago. Each one of these had an element of fear that I needed to deal with, but I have found that by spending less time thinking about the what ifs and more time thinking about the sense of accomplishment and the ultimate reward of the experience, the easier it is to take that first step; the first step out of the plane, the first step off the boat, the first step off the cliff, or the first drop onto the zip line. In every case, the rest was a piece of cake! A delicious, exciting, and rewarding piece of cake.

First Jobs…..How do we get them?

For my birthday this past year, my daughters purchased a membership for me in Story Worth. I currently write an article a week for the collection. Each week, I get a new question to write about and at the end of the year, Story Worth will bind and publish my responses in a book to be shared with my grandchildren. This week’s question was “How did I get my first job?” What follows is my response. I felt that I wanted it added to this collection as well.

The question here is whether we talk about my first job or my first career job. My first jobs were all part time in nature starting with my very first job as a busboy for an exclusive country club. I followed that up as the weekend car wash manager and from there, graduated to a combine operator for a canning company harvesting peas. My first life skill job was that of a rough carpenter on a house building crew. Over the next eleven plus years I would work for several different contractors building homes and apartments. This job provided me with skills that I applied throughout my life. All of these first jobs were landed through the connections my father had. Though he got me in the door, it was my willingness to do more and to learn everything I could that kept me employed and often promoted. I learned through my father to make connections, to always be networking, but also to go above and beyond the job expectations. Hard work does pay off but so too does ingenuity and initiative.

My first career job was in teaching and came immediately after graduation. Due to circumstances, I graduated in December and looking for a job in teaching meant my opportunities were limited. If I were to teach, I would have to accept a midterm assignment or offer myself up as a substitute teacher. The latter was not very attractive and the former meant I had to replace someone. I threw my application out statewide and even some out of state schools as well. My only opportunity, there was a glut in teachers due to the Vietnam War, came out of a tiny town in far northern Wisconsin.

A teacher was being let go for discipline reasons and I was granted an interview along with three other math educators. When I arrived for the interview, we were all in one room. Sitting across from me were three highly gifted math students. I knew they were sharp because they had been my competition through my degree program at the university. We had all just graduated from UW Oshkosh that December of 1973. How could I even compete for this position? Listening to them talk about how they were going to present themselves, I realized they were going to sell themselves based on skill and knowledge. I had to take a different tack. I decided I would root my answers in discipline and relationship. If I could maintain discipline in the classroom, I could develop a relationship with my students. I would inspire them with my passionate belief that learning was easier in a safe and relational environment.

                                          Loyal High School Logo

Twenty-five years of teaching later, spread across two different districts, I retired on my terms. In between I would make numerous presentations to multiple school districts, win a District Teacher of the Year award in my third year of teaching, and receive two nominations for State Teacher of the Year awards. I would develop educational games, create project based curriculum and write concept based curriculum for the district math department, K-12. My proudest achievement was that my students always knew why they did the math. On one occasion I was asked how I answer the question “why do we have to learn this?” My response was “I don’t know. I’ve never been asked.” As the saying goes now-a-days, mic drops!

I hope the take away from this piece is that who you know is important as long as there exists a relationship of trust. Networking is an important part of that relationship and will help open doors, but ingenuity and initiative will keep the doors open. Never stop growing, learn everything the job and the world have to offer. And one last piece of advice, and this too came from my dad.  Whenever I wanted to change jobs, he would look at me and ask why I wanted to do that and then he would follow it up with “whatever you decide, be the best at it.”  Wise words from a wise man.

Half Dome ……The Conclusion

Part Eight: Kathryn and I had been on top no more than ten minutes, when there was John coming off the cables and over the crest. True to my daughter’s character, once she and John had returned to the saddle, Bailey told him he needed to finish. In fact she INSISTED that he go back up.

They say it’s not the destination but the journey that matters. We spent the next half hour exploring the dome and savoring the view but it really was the journey that we were savoring. We had put forth a great deal of effort and determination to get where we were, and in reality, that was the accomplishment we were proud of. Don’t misunderstand me, the view was worth the climb, but the climb was worth the effort.

Half dome beak

It was still relatively early, but even so, we couldn’t spend a lot of time on top. Besides the fact that the cables were now becoming congested, we wanted to complete the Half Dome challenge of up and back in 12 hours or less. Since we had hit the trailhead at 4:00 am, we wanted to be back down no later than 4:00 pm. It was almost noon, so we knew we needed to start back down the cables.

The descent down the cables was almost as difficult as the climb up. The cable route was now jammed with people and the progress was slow as we would be forced to squeeze alongside and then slide around one climber after another. At one point, we reached a women, frozen with fear, unable to go up or back down. We had to ease ourselves around her and with some encouragement, eventually helped her to start moving back up. With effort, we got back down to the saddle and after a quick snack and unfortunately, the last of our water, headed back for the return trail.

We had been back on the downslope trail for about an hour, aching knees, hot and thirsty. The next area where we would be able to get water would be back down in Little Yosemite Valley. There we could filter some water from the Merced River. We had been deliberate about keeping our backpacks light, that meant only what we needed to carry. Bailey figured it out. She knew John well enough to know he would not have been able to resist his one weakness, Mountain Dew. We relished those 16 ounces between us and Bailey quickly forgave John his crime of smuggling. By the time we reached the Merced, we death marched straight through some poor campers’ site just to reach the river as quickly as possible. No drink ever tasted as great as the water did at that point.

Refreshed, we soon reached the top of Nevada Falls and with another hour of hiking, finally reached the trailhead. The time, just before 4:00 pm. We had done it, 17 miles, nearly a mile of elevation and all within 12 hours. We had intended to walk the remaining mile back to camp and to then treat ourselves to ice cold drinks, pizza and ice cream. The reality, we took the first shuttle back to camp and collapsed on our cots. Kathryn said it best, as great as the adventure had been, we were so spent that she was sure we would never do that again…… It wasn’t a week later, the pain and fatigue behind us, and she was asking when would we consider a repeat. Fortunately memories of pain fade quickly but great adventures create memories that last.

Half Dome 2

Epilog: I always wanted to do a piece like this, so I took the editorial freedom and wrote it. I want to dedicate the retelling of this story to several people who made it possible.

First would be my sister Kay. Without her to have shown me Yosemite that very first time, I may never had gotten the urge to do the climb. My second dedication, would be to my brother-in-law Horst. We would not have been as prepared as we were if it hadn’t been for his help. Without his encouragement and planning, we might never have accomplished it. I only wish Horst were still here to have read the recounting of that adventure.

Finally, I want to dedicate this to my daughters, Bailey and Kathryn. They have always been my inspiration for creating and pursuing adventures. With their interest and energy, this one became a reality. With their encouragement, my retelling of it. They have kept me young and adventuresome every time I thought of growing old. It is for them that I tell the stories, so that one day they will share new adventures with my grandchildren and tell the stories of the adventures they shared with me.

Half dome 1

Thanks for taking the time to read this… go find your peak to climb.

Lost and Found

If you have ever lost anything you will understand the irony of how lost things have a way of being found.  I recently, very recently, lost my wedding band.  Now as far as things you don’t want to lose go, a wedding ring is right up at the top.  Just the symbolism tends to drive your spouse to the edge.  I must say though that my wife reacted in a pretty understanding way.  She reminded me it was just a thing and she wasn’t going to get angry.  Even so, she had torn the house apart before I even returned home from work.  I meanwhile had searched every area of the office I was sure I had been in and even emailed the staff to organize a treasure hunt.  Three days later, no luck at all, and I am convincing myself the ring will never be found.

And then came Friday.  This is where the story begins.  I was finishing a client appointment and somewhere in the discussion, I had mentioned the lost ring.  My client looks at me and says, “I think this is your day to be lucky.  You are going to find the ring today.”  Now I was sure that wasn’t about to happen but still.  As I drove into my driveway that afternoon, I found myself stopping outside of the garage.  I wanted to drive my car in and planned on using my wife’s car later when we were to go out, but something told me to leave it there and switch the plan.  As I walked into the garage heading for the garage door opener, a cloud rolled by the sun and a beam of sunlight floated into the garage.  And then it happened.  A glint of light reflected up from the sawhorses stacked there in the corner.  I stopped, stepped back, and saw sunlight bouncing back at me.  I couldn’t see what it was, only the reflection.  As I reached down to the slot at the bottom of the sawhorse and placed my finger in to the groove, I felt the loop slip onto the end of my finger and there it was, my missing ring.

The irony here is the circumstances that had to align.  If I had put the car in the garage, if the cloud hadn’t rolled away from the sun, it the beam hadn’t been just at the right angle, if I hadn’t been just where I was.  I’m sure you get the picture.  Some things just want to be found and this wedding ring was one of those things.  The symbolism is not lost on me.  I love my wife and I love my life.  The ring is a symbolism of that unity.  Maybe its absence was meant to remind me of its importance.  Duly noted.

It wasn’t until later that evening that my wife eventually noticed the unification of the ring with my finger, and that is another story, but the expression of relief on her face spoke volumes.  It wasn’t just another thing one loses and forgets.  It was clearly so much more.  Guess I better be careful to make sure it stays on my finger.

Thanks for reading, and in case you’ve lost anything lately, take heart.  If it wants to be found it will find away to find you.  I guarantee it.


Always give ’em’ options

When we set about teaching our daughters independence while at the same time keeping our relative sanity, we decided to give them options.  Now please understand, we were at least smart about it.  We would creatively come up with three options knowing full well that we couldn’t lose.  No matter which they picked, we could easily live with the choice.  Now all these years later we can see that it worked.  My daughter Bailey and her husband John, are practicing the same technique with our grandson Jackson.  Here in lies the story.

The other day, while visiting their house, John and I were attempting to watch the Packer game.  I say attempting because Jackson had decided to not watch the game and instead to get us involved in his own game.

Scene one, Jackson enters the room and asks in his 2 1/2 year old style, “can Jackson play tablet?”  After an explanation by his dad that he had already had plenty of tablet time, Jackson comes back with “then Jackson reads daddy’s favorite book?”  Strike two as John explains that he is trying to watch the game and he will read the book later.  Wait for it, Jackson is ready to prove the lesson and win the game.  Without so much as a deep sigh, Jackson reaches over dad’s lap and as he grabs it, says “then Jackson gets the nuk”.  Point, set, match, you’ve all been had by your own game.  And he’s not even 3.

As I explained to John that we had just been schooled, it became clear to me that Jackson is one sharp little guy.  Of course I am his Opa  and couldn’t possibly think anything less.  But then he did figure out the game; give them three choices, all of which are wins and you can’t lose.

So a little advice for those who will be the influences in their grandchild’s life, remind them of this wisdom and urge them to always give themselves options.  Options that can’t lose and that will only lead to success.

It’s all about one’s options.  Nice play Jackson.