I have been reflecting about my last 3 months of backpacking. What stands out the most for me is that I actually did it, I fulfilled a dream.
The incredible adventure of it all accentuated by my adopted carefree approach filled in any remaining confidence gaps that I may have had. Backpacking, especially on the Pacific Crest Trail can be extremely difficult. You do ask yourself, why am I doing this, but then you find yourself in some of the most amazingly beautiful secluded places on earth and realize how fortunate you are. That realization is highlighted a bit more when you are 61 years old with 2 artificial hips. Overall, I backpacked over 280 miles with over 50K of vertical. The trip reports for the various segments are presented in my blog: http://higheredtechtalk.org which I now refer to as Higher Elevation Tech Talk.
My transition from being a Chief Information Officer, CIO, at major STEM research university in the middle of America played out quickly and a bit unexpectedly. Contributing factors included my frustration with university system leadership and policy, loosening of family regional ties due to the passing of parents and a desire to return to the stronger ties that still existed in the Northwest. Many of my friends and peers must have wondered how could I walk away from such a solid job before heading off into the unknown. The fact I had no reservations about the move surprised me the most. My wife, getting a job in Oregon, definitely helped ease the worry; but I resigned before she started looking for a job. We have never shied away from adventure, in fact this was move 25 in our 38 years of marriage. I look at this adventure as an investment in myself with the backpacking experiences as an investment in memories for retirement. As my wife told me, if you don’t pursue this dream now, maybe later you won’t be able to.
I am now back to work as a consultant tackling the typical technology challenges I used to deal with as a CIO. I have no idea where the path now leads, however, there are plenty of options for someone who can get things done. I mentioned filling in some confidence gaps, I’m not exactly sure what those gaps were, but I do know what I accomplished during this backpacking adventure has provided a sense of ultimate completion.
When I was at Missouri S&T my employees referred to me as the snowplow, meaning I cleared the way for them to be successful. I guess I did a bit of plowing to make this backpacking adventure turn out as well as it did. First, I had to “Just Do It” which was easy for me. I didn’t have all the answers but I knew that I could quickly figure it out, like adapting to a flexible trail schedule, optimizing my equipment and understanding my body’s physical limits. Then I was able to optimize the experience for maximum enjoyment return. So when a trail is closed choose another, or if conditions are deteriorating then change your plan. This is the same in business, you react to the available data, but you have to react. At the management level, choosing a trip with no forest fire closure is a fairly easy choice, but on the trail, implementing decisions based on path, distance and weather minimizes risk. Success comes from your efficiency in making the best decision at the right time.
I think back to the end of my recently completed 75K backpacking segment, the West Coast Trail on Vancouver Island, BC. My plan was to camp on the beach near Owen Point to setup for the next morning passage at low tide below 6 feet. Well I never found a place to camp and ended up at Owen Point late in the afternoon. I had a small window of opportunity to get through, low tide was only 5.2 feet at 4:40 pm.
This was a critical decision point, I had already hiked 14K and my body was tired, continuing on committed me to the navigation of two kilometers of a beach piled high with massive boulders to get to Thrasher Cove. Also, I had heard that a storm was coming so I did want to make sure I could end the trip the following day. My decision was to get past Owen Point then and deal with the boulders. Getting past Owen Point even at low tide was difficult and I slipped into the ocean soaking my boots but I saved my backpack. Now the boulders in wet boots. That 2K stretch of beach turned out to be one of the most physically strenuous efforts I have ever put myself through. I loved it, the adrenaline kicked in with my focus entirely on the goal of reaching Thrasher Cove which I accomplished in time to secure a campsite that I correctly calculated to be on ground above high tide.
Accomplishment is a powerful reward, but it only comes from your willingness to tackle a challenge. It is the same in your professional career, and what I have always sought out. I’m sure I will take on a few more professional challenges but I will also continue to balance life with wilderness challenges to ensure the fulfillment of more dreams.
The Adventure Continues