India: To Kovalam, Yoga Teacher Training

So far so great. I recently traveled south from the rock climbing/bouldering-heaven of Hampi, India, to Kovalam for my yoga teacher training program. We’re on day 3 of 28, and my body is already feeling new things. This is going to be a wild experience.

My trip down to the beach went pretty smoothly, although it took over two full days. I hopped on an auto rickshaw from Hampi to Hospet where I grabbed an overnight bus (booked ahead of time) down to Bangalore. From there, I’d take an overnight train the following night, getting me pretty close to my final destination. Before I left Hampi, I happened to sit next to another traveler at dinner, Daan from the Netherlands, who was heading the same direction, and who happened to be booked for the bunk next to mine on the train ride the following night.


About 300 stairs leading up to the Monkey Temple in Hampi


A typical sunset view in India – there are temples everywhere

We decided to meet up in Bangalore to explore for the day – a long day in a foreign city is quite a lot easier with a companion. Bangalore turned out to be wonderful. It seems to be a lot more organized than Mumbai, or at least not as big and crowded. There streets are very clean by the standards I’ve become accustomed to, and the parks are wonderful. We had a full day of wandering and checking out the gardens, coffee houses, and local art galleries.


A big government building in Bangalore. The city was pretty chill and made a lot more sense than Mumbai

From Bangalore, we boarded our train south. Daan’s ride was about 12 hours – down to Cochin – and I stayed on another four until Trivandrum. I hadn’t been able to check email for a few days, so I wasn’t really sure how I was going to get to the yoga training, but I was pretty sure it was supposed to start the night I was arriving. I got to Trivandrum pretty tired and dehydrated, but got some water and started looking for the bus stop. The rickshaw drivers are really aggressive here, but there give you really bad prices compared to locals. One offered me a ride for 250 Rupees (about $5, also just barely less than I paid for the 16 hour train ride), but I decided it was time I tried the city bus, which costs 30 Rupees. It took about 45 minutes of wandering and constantly asking directions to find, but it was a great ride, and cheap. I got off the bus in Kovalam and asked around for the hotel that was listed on the website for my yoga teacher training. Eventually I found this:


The Yoga Shala for my teacher training in Kovalam

Except it was full of people, and they were starting the opening ceremony for the program. After over 48 hours of travel and without knowing my exact destination, I arrived exactly five minutes late to my program. Wild. This seems to be how things happen in India. As long as you’re relaxed, it’ll work out perfectly.


The beach outside the yoga shala. This is my view everyday for the next month

And now that I’m here, it’s pretty easy to be relaxed. The yoga training is hard, but I love it so far. My body is sore, my mind is engaged and my spirit is full. It’s definitely going to get harder, too. It’s only been three days, but already I love the teaching aspect of the class. I think this is something I might really enjoy when I’m back in the states – teaching and honing my communication style. I already have all sorts of thoughts about this, but it will have to wait for another post. I’ve got 15 minutes until our afternoon session and still need to purify some water. Until next time,

Om Shanti Shanti Shanti.

India: Mumbai to Hampi

Wow. WOW. I arrived in India last week for the first time. I don’t know exactly how many days ago, and I don’t really know what day it is. Some calculation tells me Tuesday. It looks like for the next few months this is going to turn into a travel blog. Bear with me (or ignore me).

I flew into Mumbai through Doha, Qatar. Glitzy airport in Doha followed by one straight out of the 70’s in Mumbai. Gets the job done. I landed at 3:30 am after about 20 hours of travel, grabbed a fixed-fare taxi to my couchsurfing host’s apartment in Colaba – one of the more upscale, touristic parts of town all the way at the south end of the city. Driving through Mumbai at 5 am was wild. There’s rubble and shacks everywhere, as if some city project got started ten years ago and never really got going anywhere. Maybe that has happened, I’m not sure. Basically, it’s just a different world than I’ve seen before and my brain was processing everything as novel. In high gear after a few hours of sleep in two days, maybe you know the feeling.

I arrived at Vishal’s house at 6 and slept for several hours. He was a perfect host, great hospitality. I love couchsurfing – it’s a wonderful way to see a city from an insider’s perspective. He was working mostly during the days, so I spent the next few afternoons (I slept all morning) wandering around his part of town, checking out museums, being overwhelmed by the sheer mass of humanity on the streets. So loud, so many smells (mostly bad, some good), so much sun and garbage and color and pollution. Stray animals all over the streets, no “lanes” on the roads, rather everyone (including pedestrians) vying for whatever space they need to squeeze by. I got kind of used to that and started to enjoy it. Everyone honks at everything, but it’s just a way to let them know where you are, no aggression, usually.


The Gateway to India from the side – the fishing boats in Mumbai were beautiful.


The Gateway to India – one of Mumbai’s prime attractions.


Marine Drive in Mumbai – A welcome break from the hectic traffic and crowds.

Most of all, Mumbai was overwhelming. The poverty, the crowds, the stares, the sense of everyone wanting some of my money. Off the streets, however, the people were fantastic. The food is amazing (I love Indian food – I think it’s going to be good everywhere), and costs about $1.75 for more lunch than I can eat. My appetite is also really slow because of the heat. I can tell I’m going to miss cooking for myself, but this is a meal situation I’m more than happy to deal with for a few months.

After four days I caught an overnight sleeper bus to Hampi, father south and central. The bus ride went smoothly – I’m pretty sure we hit a concrete pole or something, but after a half hour they decided we should press on anyway. I had no idea what to expect from Hampi, and I was greeted by paradise. I’m staying at a guest house recommended by a friend, and spending my days bouldering and doing yoga and eating and drinking coffee. All very cheap, all very wonderful. Nothing moves fast here, and it’s about as empty a place I can imagine in a country crowded with over a billion people. 

Hampi is still a strange place, though, the opposite of Mumbai. It is a tourist center, and the culture here is the international vibe that everyone brings to it. Think white people in hippie pants (which Indians never wear, BTW). There doesn’t seem to be anything Indian about it except the people running the guest houses and restaurants. So I feel a bit torn. I do want to experience India, but my mind and body is at the same time so grateful from the break from the insanity of the city. Everyone speaks English, and it seems they’ve all done more or less the same route through the country, not unlike the one I have planned. It is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. The rock climbing is superb.


A random temple in Hampi just across from a climbing route we were working on.


Where I’ve been staying in Hampi – for $2 a night.


The view from my guesthouse in Hampi. Rice paddies and fantastic rocks for bouldering. Temples everywhere.

I’m going to hang out here for a bit longer – it would be easy (and cheap) to stay a month and not realize it had happened – and then head south to Kerala. Overnight bus to Bangalore, then overnight train to Kovalam. I think I’m coming to terms with this being a brief international experience in the midst of an Indian exploration. I love to hang out with Europeans, brush up on my German and Italian and French. Not what I was expecting. Brits really DO say “Bob’s your uncle.” In Kerala I’ll be doing a Yoga Teacher Training for the month of February. Again it will be a touristy thing to do in a very tourist-filled place, but I think I’m OK with that for now. The yoga will be excellent and I’m excited to learn much more about it. The few times I’ve practiced out here have been wonderful. The warm air keeps the body limber even in the morning. An amazing feeling to have in January. I’m already getting tan.  Feel free to be jealous. I know how cold it is there.

It’s about 5:30 pm now, so I’m off to catch the cooler afternoon bouldering session. Bliss.

Healing the Body

Keeping up with the education- and travel-filled fall I’ve been having, I just spent two weeks in Portland taking a Wilderness First Responder (WFR) class through the Wilderness Medicine Institute. The course came so quickly after my meditation retreat that I didn’t gear up for it mentally, just kind of jumped in. It turned out to be fantastic, completely new to me, and a wonderful lens through which to view some of my recent musings.

The course was ten days (anybody know other 10-day adventures I can go do? This is becoming a trend), and covered everything from reducing dislocations to wound management to stabilizing spinal injuries. Snake/spider bites: not as bad as I thought. Femur fractures: really really bad. Epinephrine and Benadryl: bring some. There was a staggering amount of information for the 80 hours we spent together, so I’ll definitely be reviewing my course notes every so often and before big trips.

My main reaction to everything we learned was definitely, “I can’t believe I’ve been going out into the woods for so long without knowing this.” For the most part, I wouldn’t have had any idea what to do if something serious happened to me or my companions out there, or (more likely) if I came across someone in dire straits. There’s not much actual treatment that makes sense to attempt in the woods, but now I know how to assess a situation and help make sure someone is safe while we get however much more help we need.

The reaction that’s continued to grow since the course ended, however, is how much I loved learning how to take care of people in need and start their injuries healing. It was fantastic to learn about how the body works (for instance, diabetes. I had no idea what was actually going on with blood sugar, ketones, etc., and now it makes so much sense), and made me think a lot about the path I’ve been on recently. More and more I’ve been heading in the direction of inquiry into the mind and the body, how to grow and heal them, and how to share that knowledge and experience with others. Outdoor education is a great platform for sharing all this with kids while helping them discover it on their own. This blog is a place for me to put these ideas into writing, but maybe you’ve gotten something out of it as well. Now I’m planning a trip to India for January to do a yoga teacher training, which will probably blow my mind in all sorts of ways. I may find teaching yoga to be rewarding in itself, or it may just be a good chance to deepen my own practice. Either way, I’m excited to continue pursuing this thread of mind/body growth and healing and see where it leads.

I’m pretty sure art fits into this, too, but I’m still figuring that part out. Also, neuroscience.

Mountaineering at Mt. Olympus

I just spent an extended weekend doing one of those things I don’t tell Mom about until after – this time summiting Mt. Olympus. It’s not an extraordinarily tall peak, but the remoteness and climate of the Olympic National Park make it quite an adventure. I climbed with my friend Adina Scott, who recently finished up a super rad trip on Denali that you might have heard about and should definitely check out.

The basics: The summit of Olympus is 7,980 ft, but it’s pretty much impossible to see from anywhere populated because it’s so deep in the Olympic National Park. The standard route (which we took) is through 18 miles of rain forest along the Hoh River on the west side of the park, then over various glaciers and snow fields to reach the rocky ridge that leads to the final summit block. The trip can be done in about 3 days (4 is more typical), or a bit less if you’re traveling light and fast. We decided to take 5 days and explore the glaciers a bit more once we were up there. Here’s how it happened.

Friday. Packing, checking gear, sorting out food. Got to bed around midnight. In retrospect, probably should have aimed for a few more hours of sleep here.

Saturday. 5:15 AM wake-up to catch the first ferry to Bainbridge Island. Drove 5 more hours (with a quick stop at the Wilderness Information Center to pick up bear bins) to the Hoh River Trailhead. Quick lunch and bag organization, on the trail by noon-thirty. We hiked 17.5 miles and 3,500 feet elevation to get to our first camp site, Glacier Meadows, which is where the maintained trail ends. The rain forest is beautiful (and yes, there is an official rain forest in Washington). This hike was somewhat devastating toward the end, as our packs were heavy with 5 days of supplies and lots of mountain and camping gear (ice axes, crampons, gaiters, pickets, ice screws, harnesses, rope, 4-season tent, sleeping bags and pads, cookware). We got to camp around 9, made some dinner and got to bed around 10:30 PM. Long day.

Our first view up the valley to the glaciers above.

Our first view up the valley to the glaciers above.

Sunday. We were hoping to get a nice early alpine start (like, by 4 AM), but Saturday took too much out of us, so we accidentally slept til 6. We packed up camp and made breakfast, hit the trail by 7:30 or 8. Most people leave the their camping gear at Glacier Meadows and only take what they need for the summit at this point, but because we were planning to stay on the glacier for a few days, we had to pack everything. The heavy packs definitely slowed us down, and it was a relief to start wearing a lot of our gear rather than carrying it on our backs once we got on the glacier. The first glacier, Blue Glacier, was all blue ice near the toe, which means there is no snow and all the crevasses are exposed. It sounds scary, but it’s actually safer because the dangers are obvious. Also, it’s really cool because you can see what’s happening inside the glacier and hear the water rushing beneath it and echoing up.

Ice falls and seracs coming down at the steep sections from the summit

Ice falls and seracs coming down at the steep sections from the summit

Once we crossed the first glacier, we decided to cache our bear bins and most of our food to lighten our packs. We took a few bars and snacks with us for the summit, and our condensed bags were a blessing on the steep terrain to come. We headed up over Snow Dome and continued on toward the summit. It was midday by now, but the glaciers were very mellow and the snow conditions were great. We plodded along toward the summit, continuing up another 4,000 feet from our morning camp. By about 4 PM we made it to the false summit, had a snack, ditched our bags, and got ready for the final summit block. The rock in the Olympics is very flaky and fragile, so this final summit was definitely the sketchiest part of the trip. We ended up taking the route that is considered “fourth class”, but it’s really more like fourth class with a couple moves of 5.6, and unprotectable. We made it up fine, though, and got to the top around 6 in time to enjoy some beautiful views.

From the summit!

From the summit!

It would have been a quick trip back down to our cached gear, but we decided it would be worth skipping dinner to be able to stay at the summit for the night. Sunset, stars, sunrise. Unreal. Or maybe more real than anything else. It’s hard to tell at this point.

Sunset over the summit

Sunset over the summit

we had snow for dinner

Our summit camp


Sunrise glow

Monday. Early on, we had considered tacking on a traverse of the Bailey Range to the trip following the summit, but it was clear by this point that we weren’t going to be able to do the 5-day traverse in the 3 days we had left, especially with the little snow that was still clinging to the slopes. So we took things relatively easy from here. We departed the summit and swung by a maintenance building/weather station we had noticed perched on an outcropping on the way up. We were expecting it to be abandoned, but there was a guy there, Dave, who put out lawn chairs for us and gave us Kool-Aid while we traded stories. He’s been up there every summer for the past 40 years, doing various types of maintenance and research, including cleaning the mountain of gear and trash that was left there in the 1950’s. Super friendly guy, a personification of love for the mountain and the whole national park.

After our surreal refreshments, we skidded the rest of the way down to our cache and made a much needed and delayed pot of spaghetti. I had a quick accidental nap and we packed up and headed over to Glacier Pass, which separates the Blue Glacier from the Hoh Glacier. It was only about 3 PM, so we decided to cross the Hoh Glacier and head up to Camp Pan for a night. After a bit of a tricky rock scramble, we made it up to the camp to discover a beautiful oasis of tiny trees and huge vistas. A thing that was starting to make more sense to me at this point was the idea of “mountain time.” I’m pretty familiar with “forest time”, which is already totally different than time in civilization. Forest time is measured by rushing rivers and trickling creeks, by bird calls and berry plants and the occasional wildlife sighting. Mountain time is slower, almost stopped. Here almost nothing moves, and when it does it is a big deal. Ice falls and landslides and rarely any life. We saw a falcon and watched it for ten minutes as it weaved in and out of cliff banks. Time is measured by the slow progress of the sun across the sky, the gradual shortening and lengthening of shadows. There are waterfalls rushing on the cliffs surrounding, but they look like still white lines. It does strange and wonderful things to the brain.

View down the Hoh Glacier to the start of the Hoh River from Camp Pan

View down the glacier to the start of the Hoh River from camp

Tuesday. We had a leisurely morning at Camp Pan and decided to grab some day packs and take a peek at the next valley over Blizzard Pass. The vastness of this place is so striking. We had already been able to see into most of the valleys from the summit, but actually walking there made the proportions a bit more real. We looked over the Humes Glacier down to Queets Basin and the headwaters of the Queets River. Blizzard Peak had just about the most evil rock I’ve ever met, an unhappy combination of sharp and crumbly.

Humes Glacier down to Queets Basin

Humes Glacier down to Queets Basin

We soaked in the views for a bit, then headed back to pack up camp and start our trek back out of the park. We crossed the Hoh Glacier up to Glacier Pass, scooted down the Blue Glacier all the way down to the blue ice, headed up the lateral moraine, and found ourselves back on a trail by about 6 PM. We continued another 6 miles through the forest to a camp surrounded by life and blueberries and comfortably thick air. Dinner by about 10, and straight to bed.

Blue Glacier on our way back to the forest, summit in the distance

Blue Glacier on our way back to the forest, summit in the distance

Wednesday. All we had left was to walk out the downhill and flat section of the rain forest, about 13 miles. We got moving at a decent hour, and again, the rain forest was beautiful. My ankles started to hurt from all the downhill on hard terrain, but the rest of my body felt great. Our packs were a little bit lighter from all the food we had eaten, and our legs were stronger from all the walking. We got to the car around 2 PM, ate lunch, exploded and sorted all our gear, and hit the road. We bought milkshakes, which were wonderful. The drive was just as long as before, and we rolled into Seattle around 9 PM. Tired and happy. Pretty epic adventure.

Adina at our false summit camp

Adina at our false summit camp

Taking the Plunge: It keeps getting better

This is an update on my new life of self-employment and -empowerment. Previous entries include: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

Whew. Life has been a whirlwind. I’ve been out of Seattle about 80% of the days and nights in the last two months. Most of those have been outdoors, which is totally excellent. I’m on track to blow out of the water any of my previous records on number of nights slept under the stars, and total hours not spent under a roof. Much of this has been through my new job leading backpacking trips for middle and high school boys with the YMCA. I just got back on Saturday from an 8-day adventure through North Cascades National Park, which got me thinking about a lot of what’s happened in my life lately.

Here’s the gist. For a long time, I’ve made a lot of the big decisions of my life on something of a whim. This isn’t a bad thing, necessarily, and it has worked out extremely well thus far. I’m pretty sure I majored in physics in college because I was good at math and I had a great professor my freshman year. It seemed like a good idea, but I never really though about the reality of the field: hyper-competitive academic environment, lots of colleagues with poor social skills (sorry physicists, but I doubt you’d disagree), a life spent in a lab working primarily on intangibles. It could be a really a good life, but it doesn’t mesh well with a lot of my core values.

I had pretty much realized these things by the time I applied to grad school, so I decided to do geology instead (not coincidentally at a school with a great ultimate frisbee team), expecting most of those qualms to be remedied by the nature of the field. If I had played my cards differently, I think it could have worked out really well, but I ended up pigeon-holing myself in geophysics, and spent most of my grad student years on a computer looking at satellite data. Good intention, but I didn’t quite follow through with it. This led to a lot of exploring which was hugely valuable, and which fluctuated on the intention-whim spectrum: sustainable agriculture in Italy, various construction projects, an office job in green building consulting.

In the past year I’ve gotten better at making intentional decisions, and basing those decisions around my core values. It helps that I have made big strides in actually clarifying my life values. So when this job to lead backpacking trips came along, I pretty much knew I had to take it. It still wasn’t easy, and it even meant parting ways with my most excellent band, Pocket Panda (check them out anyway!) because of the amount of time I’d be out of the city. But the job meant a lot of time in the woods exploring national parks, working with kids, sharing some of my biggest passions, constantly working on healthy relationship building, and taking some big steps out of my comfort zone. I even got to throw creativity into the mix, as the trips I’m leading have an additional focus on art, music, and cooking (seriously, this might be the best job ever).

The focus I’ve put on my creative endeavors lately, primarily painting, has also been filled with intention and alignment with my values. But it has lacked a lot of the positive characteristics of outdoor education, so it has been a revelation to find a way to do both things part of the time. I still have the mental space to go paint at my studio this week, knowing that I’ll be in the woods for weeks straight very soon. I’m sure this will all evolve in impossible-to-predict ways, but for now, I’m continuing to live the dream. And make a little bit of a living in the process!