Monday, February 8, 2016

Dog Drowns Man

In the past three months, I’ve given talks to CEO groups in Albany, Banff, Calgary, Chicago, Montreal, Nashville, New York City, San Diego, Tallahassee, and Toronto. I also spoke at bookstores about my new book Daunted Courage, at schools in Nashville and New York City, at The Adventure Cycling Association’s 40th anniversary event, at a worldwide gathering at Intel Corporation, and to the entire staff of U.S. Pharmacopeia, a company that has been around since 1820.

In every CEO workshop and presentation, I’ve witnessed a common desire and heard the same request. Kindergarteners have shared this thought with me. So have high school students, teachers, middle managers and CEOs.  Each person had a unique story and set of experiences, but they had this in common: they wanted to be more adventurous.

Some people roll their eyes at the word “adventure,” telling me it’s overused and has lost any real meaning. Perhaps that’s true. But each of us carries inside the possibility to take abstract concepts and turn them into meaningful action. Defined as, “willing to take risks and try out new ideas or experiences,” the word “adventurous” is derived from the Latin root meaning, “about to arrive” or “[a thing] about to happen.” Its etymology includes the Old French term meaning, “to risk the loss of.” We are at our most adventurous when we set out on a journey that may take us to a place where we risk the loss of something precious to us – our old self, perhaps?

Being adventurous is being open to your own possibility for growth. It is about being afraid but continuing anyhow. 

When I’ve struggled with the hard stuff of life – the death of a friend, the breakdown of an intimate relationship, my body’s fading strength from aging – I’ve sometimes dreamt I was dying. In one dream, I jumped into a swimming pool to help a dog. As I swam underneath and tried to push the dog up from below, its paws suddenly locked onto my shoulders, and the two of us began descending rapidly. Despite struggling fiercely, I couldn’t escape the downward pressure. I heard the muffled, desperate voices of people along the edge of the pool screaming at me to swim away from the dog, but I couldn’t escape. I bent my knees, waiting to hit the bottom of the pool and propel myself back up, but my feet never reached a foundation. We descended into the dark watery depths of the bottomless pool, where I felt the terrifying sensation of drowning.

I awoke breathless, panicked and sweating. As I pondered the dream, I realized, “Something in me is dying. I must be losing part of my old self.” It was a disconcerting feeling, a grudging acknowledgment that change is inevitable and that grief is non-negotiable. But I suspected that, just ahead, out of view, my new self was waiting around the corner with a knowing smile.

The CEOs and students I spoke with told me their own dreams of adventure, but they also frequently cited the obstacles that were preventing them from taking action – the parent who must care for a child and therefore puts on hold his own ambitions. The child who wants to explore her physical limits but has internalized fears projected onto her by well-meaning adults.

We all want to craft a meaningful life, but our obligations and external expectations frequently prevent us from truly living, from following a risky path, from growing to our potential. I want to tell you: Don't hold back. Listen to the nudge inside. Accept that following your nudge will come with risks and consequences, but it also promises the opportunity for the most wonderful growth. I want to say: Dive fearlessly into your own adventure!

But who knows if that is the best advice? Who can determine the right path for you? Only you, or the dog in the pool, or your new self, waiting for you just around the corner.


Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Teasers

Outdoor Families Magazine recently published a Q&A with me about my new book, Daunted Courage: A Family's Bicycle Adventure on the Lewis & Clark Trail. Here are a few teasers. Read the article to find out the rest of each sentence!

"Whenever we were struggling - with extreme temperatures, major storms and epic climbs over the Rocky Mountains, for example - we told each other..."

"I think the most important gifts a parent can give a child are..."

"I also wanted to teach my kids that life is about..."

"As a father, obviously my most important role is to keep my children safe. And while many people supported our journey, others questioned my judgment. One guy who heard about our plans sent me an angry e-mail that ended with..."

"Discomfort is the birthplace of..." (Anyone who has heard one of my talks will know this one!)

The article ends with this piece of advice:
"If you're intrigued by something you want to try but you're intimidated, you're probably..."



Saturday, November 28, 2015

Dan Berlin on CBS TV show "The Doctors"

The CBS television show "The Doctors" just featured Dan Berlin of Team See Possibilities on this week's episode. Cool!


Dan gave credit to his guides (Alison Qualter Berna, Brad Graff and me) as he described our history-making ascent of the Inca Trail last month when he became the first blind person to complete the trek nonstop. It usually takes 4 days, but we completed it in 13 hours. Here are a few screen captures from the episode:











Saturday, October 31, 2015

Press Coverage Pouring In

Wow, lots of press coverage is pouring in! AFAR Magazine just posted a review of my new book, Daunted Courage (see below). And my adventure group Team See Possibilities is being featured far and wide for guiding the first blind runner to ascend the Inca Trail nonstop to Machu Picchu. Coverage includes the BBC, Huffington Post, Outside Magazine, The Denver Post, and many more. And there's more to come, including CBS. Here are a few of the posts:

* October 31, 2015: Afar Magazine - book review of Daunted Courage

* October 28, 2015: Huffington Post "First Blind Runner to Ascend Inca Trail Nonstop to Machu Picchu"

* October 25, 2015: BBC Radio


* October 25, 2015: The Denver Post


* October 20, 2015: Outside Magazine

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

New Book! Daunted Courage: A Family's Bicycle Adventure on the Lewis & Clark Trail


My 8-year-old daughter thinks Sacagawea would like this book more than any other written about Lewis and Clark's famous early 1800s expedition. I'm not sure that's true, but my new book, Daunted Courage: A Family's Bicycle Adventure on the Lewis & Clark Trail, mixes danger, history, child-rearing and the travails of exploring the unknown into a grand tale that I hope will leave you wanting to go out and create your own adventure!

The naysayers said it was foolhardy to attempt to cycle nearly 1,700 miles and over the Rocky Mountains with a 12- and 6-year-old. But I think kids can do a whole lot more than most adults think. As we dealt with one problem after another on this 2-month bike ride, my children and I grew closer. Maybe instead of trying to make their lives comfortable, the best way to raise resilient kids is to struggle together?

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Dan Berlin Makes History!

We made it! Exactly one week ago, with help from Alison Qualter Berna, Brad Graff and me, Dan Berlin made history, becoming the first blind runner to ascend the Inca Trail nonstop to Machu Picchu. It took us 13 hours to complete the trek, which normally takes 4 days.



We were helped enormously by our innovative and resourceful sponsor, Intrepid Travel. The Inca Trail has strict regulations, and Intrepid was able not only to secure the required permits for our team. They finessed special permission for us to start before dawn so we would have a chance to complete the trek in time to reach Machu Picchu by sundown. Intrepid embedded a videographer in our group named Lucy Piper (with the big smile, 2nd from the right). 


Check out Lucy's cool pre-trek video below, which shows that we were about to get more than we bargained for… Lucy is an impressive Ironman triathlete from Australia, and she completed the exhausting endurance challenge alongside us, filming throughout – impressive!


Intrepid also provided a local Peruvian guide named Elyas who was hyper competent, knowledgeable about Incan history and culture, and had completed the Inca Trail trek 215 times. 


He told us what we were attempting to accomplish was not impossible, but extremely difficult to pull off for even the fittest of runners. He added that local officials thought it was crazy to try such an overwhelmingly difficult thing, and they could not believe that a blind person would even attempt it.

We left the trailhead at 4:30 a.m. running with headlamps in the pre-dawn darkness. 


We needed to make it to the final check point by 4 p.m. in order to be allowed to continue on to Machu Picchu (another 2 hours away) by sunset. If we didn’t arrive in time, we would be required to spend the night in a campsite and finish our route the following morning. 

The trek was challenging to say the least: rocky, narrow paths that took us over three mountain passes, winding alongside dangerous drop offs high above a distant valley. The Incas did not use switchbacks, which meant the ascents were often brutally steep, and the precipitous descents were genuinely frightening at times. We climbed as high as nearly 14,000 feet above sea level, which made it hard to breathe in enough oxygen for our fatigued muscles. 


After reaching the first mountain pass in mid-morning, Elyas looked worried. We were already an hour behind schedule. The steep ascents were sapping our strength, and it was too treacherous to go quickly much of the time. The steep descents were particularly hard on Dan, who was at constant risk of falling or snapping an ankle.

Elyas urged us to move faster, but we had to prioritize keeping Dan safe. Our typical guiding technique had been for a lead guide to call out obstacles to Dan, who followed behind using hiking poles to feel for the upcoming obstruction. Another guide followed closely behind to grab Dan if he stumbled. This worked on well-maintained trails but wasn’t ideal if the terrain became too technical. A few weeks earlier, Brad and Dan had come up with a creative guiding technique during a training hike up and down two rocky, scree-covered 14,000-foot peaks in Colorado: Dan held on to the back of Brad’s backpack, which provided more stability than our normal technique. But even that approach was not allowing us to go as quickly as we needed on the Inca Trail.

Alison and I came up with a new guiding technique inspired by the trapezoidal construction the Incas used to provide stability to their impressive stone structures. The two of us joined our inside hands and used hiking poles in our outside hands to provide a broad base, while Dan held on from behind to each of our backpacks. 


This allowed us all to go much faster. Brad followed closely behind to grab Dan in case he fell backward. Sometimes Alison or I slipped, and Dan helped pull us back up - it was a satisfying turn-about for him, I'm sure, to help one of us instead. Alison, Brad and I swapped guiding positions from time to time in order to give one another a break. I could tell Dan was challenged and perhaps intimidated by the terrain, but he didn't complain or give up. He's a remarkable person.

Brad had injured his heels two days earlier while sliding down a steep rock. He was in pain throughout our trek, especially on the descents, but he gutted it out. He's a resilient guy, and I was impressed.


The day before our hike, as she felt the strength-sapping effects of being at high altitude, Alison nearly broke down in tears. Facing the non-stop demands of raising 3 young children and being the co-founder of apple seeds, a children’s play space in New York City that is in the midst of launching a massive national franchise, her busy life made it difficult to train for our ambitious trek. Alison worried that she would not be able to keep up with the group. But when the time came, she rose to the occasion.


We all pushed as hard as we could while ensuring that Dan stayed safe. We arrived at the checkpoint at 3:58 p.m. Two minutes to spare!

The buzz had spread about what we were trying to accomplish among the Peruvian authorities and local population, and the rangers at the checkpoint were so excited to see us, they applauded and asked to take pictures together. 


We made it to an overlook of Machu Picchu nearly 2 hours later, just as the sun was disappearing behind towering mountains off to our left. Glowing clouds obscured the sunset and gave the ruins, which were laid out below us, an eerie feel. 


I felt elated and relieved to have completed such a tough challenge. Looking out at the complex of gray rock structures built so long ago by a civilization that could not defeat the conquering Spaniards, I was grateful the Incas had left behind such a marvel of ingenuity and beauty. Machu Picchu at dusk was majestic - and devoid of human brings because the last tourists had already left. It was a rare privilege to see the site without any other people there.

We celebrated with hugs and photos and paid our respects to Pacha Mama - Mother Earth in the Incan religion – for keeping us safe. 


Then we all got choked up as Alison read aloud from the loving letters her children had tucked into her backpack. Her kids praised her for being a role model and said how proud they were of this accomplishment. I’d say: lucky mom and lucky kids…

As Machu Picchu was slowly being enveloped by darkness, I felt a deep sense of gratitude for Dan, who had decided to become an endurance athlete after going blind. It felt strange to think it, but I was actually glad he lost his vision. Horrible thing to think, right? But I believe Dan is having a greater impact on this world than he would have had he not lost his sight. In his reaction to such a personal tragedy, he’s become a role model for others facing their own tragedies and challenges.

This became obvious in the days immediately following our feat. Alison had worked at UNICEF in the past and brought them on board as one of our sponsors. Thanks to outreach by the local UNICEF office, Dan became a mini-celebrity. The Peruvian press embraced the story, and Dan was interviewed by TV and radio stations, magazines and newspapers. 


We've also received coverage from Outside Magazine, Trail Runner Magazine, The Denver Post (goes live on Oct 23), with more in the works!

UNICEF arranged a visit to a school in Lima for blind children and young adults. Following presentations by a government official and a representative from UNICEF, Dan gave a moving presentation, encouraging the students to treat their blindness as an inconvenience to overcome rather than a disability preventing them from setting ambitious goals. 


I imagined that one of the students listening to Dan might decide to ignore the limitations placed on her by the expectations of society and dive fearlessly into her own adventures. Maybe 30 years from now, she’ll be president of Peru…

We were joined in Peru and got lots of love and help from Lisa Graff (Brad’s wife), Sheila Berlin (Dan’s wife) and their beautiful children Talia and Kyle. 

I’m deeply grateful to my wife Eiko and our kids Sho and Saya for supporting me in this crazy endeavor. And I want to give a big shout out to our fabulous sponsors Intrepid Travel, UNICEF and Altra Running.

We’re raising money to support the Blind Institute of Technology (which helps companies integrate vision impaired employees into the workplace). If you’d like to make a contribution, please go to: www.teamseepossibilities.com


Thank you!

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Help Dan make history again

I’m writing from Peru, where I’m helping my friend Dan Berlin try to make history… again. On Wednesday (Oct 14), my friends Brad Graff, Alison Qualter Berna and I will guide Dan as he attempts to become the first blind runner to ascend the Inca Trail nonstop to the historic site of Machu Picchu. You may remember that we helped guide Dan last year across the Grand Canyon “rim to rim to rim” nonstop, something never before done by a blind runner.

This high elevation mountain trek to Machu Picchu normally takes four days and climbs over three mountain passes that reach as high as 14,000 feet. We’ll try to complete it in one day. In our planning meeting yesterday, the Peruvian guide who has completed the trek 215 times told us:
“What you are planning to do is not impossible but the local authorities think it’s crazy for anyone to try, let alone with a blind person.”

We’re sponsored by Intrepid Travel, Altra Running, Smartwool and UNICEF, and raising money for the Blind Institute of Technology, which helps companies integrate vision-impaired employees into the workforce. We’re working with UNICEF to encourage children with disabilities to participate in sports. This Saturday, we will meet with blind students at a school in Lima, Peru. Dan, who decided to become an endurance athlete after going blind in his 30s, offers a reminder that each one of us can overcome even the greatest of obstacles. I hope, as the students hear Dan’s story, they will be inspired to come up with and dive fearlessly into their own adventures and, like Dan, see blindness as an inconvenience to be overcome rather than a disability that prevents them from living life to the fullest.

If you’d like to support us, please go to www.teamseepossibilities.com and click on “Donate.” Another excellent way to support us would be to share our story on social media, pointing people to our website. Our Twitter handle is TeamSeePoss.

Thank you for your support!

Friday, October 9, 2015

Daunted Courage, First Blind Runner Nonstop to Machu Picchu, and Scott Jurek!

Daunted Courage:
Thank you to everyone who came out to the Daunted Courage book reading! What a great turnout, and I loved the energy in the room. Special thanks to Affinia Hotels, especially Jess Parker, for hosting the event. I’ve posted some photos below.

My 8-year-old daughter Saya decided to steal the show. At one point, as I was reading excerpts from the book, she sat on the stool beside me making faces and copying my gestures in a silly, exaggerated way. Yes, she was disruptive, but I love that girl and her feisty personality.

Machu Picchu:
I’m flying to Peru today as part of Team See Possibilities. Made up of the blind runner Dan Berlin and his three guides (Alison Qualter Berna, Brad Graff and I), we take on major endurance challenges around the world linked to charitable causes. After successfully guiding Dan Berlin last year to become the first blind runner to cross the Grand Canyon rim to rim to rim nonstop, our next challenge is Machu Picchu! Typically a four-day hike, we’re going to attempt to climb the Inca Trail to the historic site of Machu Picchu nonstop in less than a day. If successful, it will be the first time a blind person has accomplished that feat.

We’re sponsored by Intrepid Travel, UNICEF, Smart Wool, and Altra Running, and we’re raising money for the Blind Institute of Technology, which teaches companies how to integrate vision-impaired employees. Intrepid – an innovative travel company that focuses on experiential travel – is handling our on-the-ground logistics and costs, and embedding a videographer to capture footage of our trek. UNICEF has arranged for us to meet with vision-impaired students at a school in Lima and with government officials working on behalf of children with disabilities.

We’re also being supported by the renowned ultra runner Scott Jurek. Most people learned about Scott in the best selling book Born to Run, which describes Scott’s many remarkable exploits. He’s one of the greatest ultra runners ever and also a very cool person. Here's a photo of Scott and Dan on a recent training run.



And here are pics from the Daunted Courage book reading: