Farewell to Lei

The past few days yielded some great hiking and even a taste of adventure.  At the beginning of this year, I had the pleasure of meeting a young man, Lei Zou, through the Confucius Institute at Colorado State University where he was a teacher.  In short order, we got along really well.  With his appointment ending very soon and his return to China, we decided to spend a few days together in a celebration of our friendship.

Last Friday, we went on an 11-mile loop hike at Red Mountain Open Space.  About one hour north of Fort Collins, this area is characterized by lots of red bluffs, canyons, and washes, punctuated with open expanses of grassland.  The fall weather alternated between sun and snow as we circled from Colorado, into Wyoming, and back into Colorado again.  The only company on the trail were cattle off in the distance … this area is that remote.

The next day was a far taller task, entailing a logistically difficult, lengthy hike I had been longing to do ever since I arrived in Fort Collins last summer.  Early in the morning, we successfully convinced an Uber driver to drive us several miles west of Loveland.  We set off along the Devil’s Backbone heading north.  Lei is a really strong hiker so the pace was quick.  We passed tall cliffs to our right and zigzagged along the flanks and the bottom.  After several hours, we crossed into Horsetooth Mountain where the terrain opened up quite a bit.  The sun came out and warmed us as we continued north.  Eventually, we crossed into Lory State Park and walked past Arthur’s Rock and Horsetooth Reservoir up to the visitor’s center.  All together, I’d guess this to be about a 17-mile hike, at least the way that we came.  Lightning struck twice as we were lucky enough to find an Uber driver willing to come out from Fort Collins to pick us up 🙂

Saying goodbye, at least temporarily, is never easy.  However, I could not think of a better way to say goodbye to Lei than putting in some miles on the trail in the beauty of Colorado, basking in juicy conversation and plain silence.  We spent a lot of time together this year as Lei learned to drive and taught me Chinese.  I can get a good read on people, especially when I spend this much time with them.  While there are many positive qualities about Lei, two of them consistently shined brightly.  First, I have always been impressed with his integrity and commitment to his values.  He is unique in the sense that he really stops to think about what he stands for and what type of future he envisions for himself.  There is, and will be, no aimless drifting through life with him; he has goals in mind that are fueled by his values and is keeping the target squarely in his sights.  Secondly, Lei is the rare, young person who is mature beyond his years.  He is progressing in all three phases of the game — mind, body, and spirit.  Beneath the surface of his calm demeanor, I can truly see someone who is starting to develop self-awareness and depth of thought, and will continue on this path.

Sometimes in life, you are blessed and the right people come into your life at the right place, the right time, and, most importantly, for the right reasons.  I got lucky this year.  Time is flying by and, saying this respectfully, I am careful about how I spend this most precious commodity and whom I spend it with.  Thank you, Lei, for adding to my growth and making me better.  May the Universe bless you always …

 

New York City, Halloween 2015

I’ll always enjoy going to New York City (纽约) for a weekend visit of food, culture, and energy, even though my life has led me to set up my base camp in the mountains of Colorado.  Halloween this year found me in this melting pot of humanity visiting my friend Bingbing Xue and her gracious roommate Audie Wang.

The first day, Bingbing and I went on a very long walk across Manhattan, from stem to stern, passing many familiar landmarks.  A pit stop in Chinatown around lunch reaped a harvest of bubble tea, followed by steamed dumplings (灌汤包) and noodles (姜懿珈) at Joe’s Shanghai Restaurant.  We made our way over to some clothing shops where I decided to begin the process of a long overdue makeover of my wardrobe.  At night, Audie met us and we enjoyed dinner at Xi’an Famous Foods.

The weekend’s main draw was Saturday’s New York City Halloween parade.  As you might imagine, this parade was massive on scale, with 2 million spectators and an estimated 60-to-70,000 participants.  Yours truly was clad in pajamas with a big dog face emblazoned on the front and dog paw prints all over the pants.  You could not imagine the sights and sounds I saw that night as we marched up 6th Avenue through the classic neighborhood of Greenwich Village.  While I typically shun large festivals and their crowds, on this night I had a terrible amount of fun, and getting to meet and chat with all of Bingbing and Audie’s friends while we shuffled along the parade route made the night quite memorable.

Until we meet again, New York City.

 

An Autumn Colorado Weekend

Fan Jia and Bao Guangrun flew into town last Friday from Ohio to pay a visit.  These pictures highlight the very essence of why I moved out to Fort Collins last year and will settle down here.  Within one day, you can be in both the clean air of the mountains and the inspiring culture of the museums.

The first day, I showed them around Colorado State University and took them just outside of town to a hike at Horsetooth Mountain Park.  Saturday’s travels took us to the Denver Botanic Gardens, the Denver Art Museum, a Chinese restaurant, and then finally a Colorado Avalanche hockey game.  Finally, on Sunday, we went for a hike up to Chasm Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park.  The day culminated in a homemade Chinese “hotpot” dinner.

As I grow older, I realize time spent with great friends is a prize beyond measure …

 

A Long Way from Vietnam

My hike yesterday up to Cub Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park was made all the better by virtue of the companionship of two new international students from Vietnam attending CSU this year, Chi and Phuong.  Watching them discover the beauty of autumn for the first time in the Rocky Mountains brought me a healthy dose of happiness.  I believe innocence is the basis for many positive things.  Please enjoy the pictures …

 

South Dakota, 2015

Over the weekend, my friend Yun Jianjing and I enjoyed traveling around western South Dakota.  We first took a scenic morning drive down Spearfish Canyon, replete in its autumn colors.  There was a stop at the iconic Mount Rushmore National Monument to marvel at what took 14 years of passion and dedication to construct.  In the evening, we took a 4.5-mile hike through the hauntingly beautiful Badlands National Park and watched the sun set over the vast emptiness that is the South Dakota prairie.  All this culminated the next day in a windy climb of Harney Peak, sentinel of the Black Hills, highest summit in the U.S. east of the Rockies.

 

Mt Evans, CO

This morning, Casey Quinn and I climbed the 14er Mt Evans taking an unusual off-trail route.  We parked over at Guanella Pass and bushwhacked through a couple of miles of swamp and willow.  This led us to a climb of a steep, long gully that deposited us up on the ridge line.  In the mountains of Colorado, the weather is changing now; up top, it was windy and there was about 0.5″ snow.  We picked our way along the West Ridge of Mt Evans up to the summit.  On the way back down, the snow and the sleet intensified.  All told, a stout 10-mile climb that was made all the more memorable with good conversation, volatile weather, and the adventure of going cross country!  6 down, 48 to go.

 

Awaken …

So I’ll cut right to the chase. I deleted my Facebook account and with it, hundreds of friends, hundreds of pictures, and seven years of running commentary on my life. Actually, this was something I had been thinking about for a long time but there were two events that recently pushed me past the tipping point.

First, I had a cousin that had been sick for a number of years. Unfortunately, his condition took a turn for the worse so I quickly flew out to see him.  As I was sitting there in his hospital room during my visit, I was quite surprised and taken aback at how precarious his health had become.  Driven by guilt, among other emotions, I began to question how him and I had lost touch. While not solely the cause, I deduced that I had relied too much on Facebook to act as a surrogate for our interaction. It had become all too easy to glance on the news feed and convince myself that my cousin was doing fine.

Second, late this summer, and immediately after visiting my cousin, I solo hiked the John Muir Trail for two weeks with virtually no internet connection. My days blended together in a blissful combination of beautiful landscapes, long miles on my feet, and nights in my tent where I would meditate and study my Chinese flashcards. During that time, I felt no itch, no longing to be tethered to Facebook. The reason is simple: I was already doing what I wanted to be doing and highly valued.

Let me state right off the bat that if Facebook works for you and fits into your lifestyle, then that is great! And I am being honest here. I am not going to get on a soapbox and tell you how to live your life. There are actually some things I like about Facebook; the ability to stay in touch with those one would otherwise lose touch with along with interesting news items jump to mind.

My personal problem with Facebook is that there are simply better ways I can spend my valuable time that are more in accordance with my values and the direction where I want my life to go. In a nutshell, it is the difference between settling versus optimizing.

I wish I had the willpower and self-discipline to intelligently use Facebook, say, for 10-15 minutes a day. But try as I might, I found myself coming home at night and zoning out by scrolling through the news feed for an hour or more, checking it on my iPhone repeatedly throughout the day even if I was present with other people, and yearning for “likes” to my posts. Hard to admit, but it’s the truth.

When I decided that maybe I could use Facebook in a limited sense by scaling back on the number of Facebook friends I had, I started pruning the list. However, this led to the conclusion that many of those that remained on my pruned list were those that I factually had no regular contact or connection with. I only pretended there was authentic connection. Therefore, the reason I had been giving over and over to myself and to others as my justification to keep using Facebook was, in the end, only an illusion.

Let’s suppose that unlike me, you can limit the amount of time you spend on Facebook. Even now, other issues arise. You must bear in mind that what you are actually seeing about another person and their life is, on balance, a highlight reel and is not a substitute for authentic connection. Facebook will never, ever act as a substitute for physically telling and showing someone how much you treasure their friendship. While I will miss certain aspects of the news feed, I will still be able to access these news, information, and personal growth sources on the web and I will no longer have to sift through lots of ads, suggestions, and commentary I don’t find enriching in order to do so.

So what will I do with my newfound windfall of time? I will do the things I love to do: exercise, read inspiring books, write and play music on my guitar, study Chinese, and go on trips, especially if they involve a friend. No more spending an evening on Facebook and feeling the soft jabs of loneliness while unread novels and half-written music collects dust on my desk, no more “fear of missing out” syndrome when I haven’t checked in with Facebook for a couple of days. I will also sensibly maintain this blog because I do love to write and express myself and it does offer a way, in this digital age, for others to stay connected with me, if they are so inclined.

If you are whiling away the hours on Facebook, or any other social media for that matter, then … awaken. That book or song you need to write to impact the world is waiting for you to write it. Your future husband or wife is down the street at a coffee shop, sitting alone, waiting for you. A senior citizen, who hasn’t had a visitor in months, is at a retirement home waiting for you to tell you their story and impart the gift of wisdom on your life. Buy some flowers, find your friend, grab a walk to watch the sunset followed by a meal, and show them that you care about them.