Saturday, July 4, 2020

Don’t follow your passion, use a map


My journey to a dream life and back

If you are feeling lost and realize that you are off-route, no longer on the path you intended, as in going the wrong way, the best thing to do, as advised by Search and Rescue personnel – is to turn back. Retrace your steps to the last spot where you were not lost.


Debriefs are the best - looking back, the last three years

Many know the story. I left a great job June of 2017, a long-time career, to explore another way to live. I had a rough plan: to be outside more and to not sit through another corporate meeting. I scaled down my belongings, including selling my Vancouver condo, and moved into a 500sqft rental apartment in Squamish, a popular mountain-adventure town about 65km from the city. 

Friends who were successful at monetizing their social media presence as professional influencers were the basis of my inspiration. They made a modest-to-impressive living of showcasing picturesque adventuresome lifestyles. I liked the concept, though soon realized that I lacked content to gain a following. So, I needed content.

I had many skill gaps. Mountaineering, mixed alpine climbing, and backcountry ski touring, as well as anything to do with outdoor first aid, avalanche and mountain safety training,  navigation and orienteering – well pretty much everything. I had the basics if at all. Unfazed though. I was keen, disciplined, and had a life-full of transferable skills to rely upon. Through word of mouth, I got an interview as an adventure guide for a company based out of Whistler.  I just needed my 80-hour wilderness first aid ticket and they would train and mentor me for the other stuff. The paychecks did not cover my rent, however I would be working outdoors and already imagining the cool content for my social media.

Once in the flow of the guiding community stream, despite struggling through the obvious difficulties of that industry, I managed to tick off some check boxes. I passed certifying exams and progressed to respectable mountain objectives in various disciplines. Within 18 months I was immersed, working as a ski instructor at the Whistler Blackcomb resort, volunteering as a ski patrol, and had been promoted as lead hiking guide, earning interesting assignments such as multi-day backpacking trips with clients coming to me from all over the globe.

Volunteer ski patrol on Blackcomb

Glacier-tour guide. Photo Braeden Ennis

Leading students on multi-day backpacking trip, Marriott Basin

I passed! Blood sweat & tears!

Went for a lap with Jeff and Audrée after my shift as ski instructor. Whistler Blackcomb.

March of 2019, I had a weird feeling. My life felt as though it was off-route. I never set out to become a professional guide or a ski instructor, yet I had burned through my savings to get there. As well, I had literally left my ex life behind. I rarely returned to the city, not even to visit friends, peers, or to keep my former career network in the loop. As I said, I had fully immersed, like when you stare at your feet on the trail instead of looking up at your surroundings.

Take a bearing

I then sat with my journal and listed “what went well” and “what didn’t so much” since making the life change.  It was a 50/50 draw.  I took note of my negligence in building a social media presence. 'Social influencer' was not to be my calling. The motivation for the change initially was in essence the desire to do more of what I love. And, certainly I had accomplished this whether I was posting to Insta about it or not.

Even though guiding was not my passion per say, I did bring my passion to work. Clients tipped with enthousiasm and the feedback was generally amazing. This was a sign that I should persevere at least one more year.

Flipping back in my journal, in there penciled was another dream goal. It said: “publish books”. And so began another grand project on the side: learning how to write and illustrate a novel.

My first Trad multi-pitch. Calculus crack on the Apron w/ Alex

Solo scramble run up Sky Pilot.

Guiding on the Whistler Via Ferrata. Photo Dan

My first Sport multi-picth. Star Chek w/ Spring

Watch for hazards

Summer guiding season wrapped-up Sept 28, 2019. I was tired. In my favour, the snow came later than usual and so I had several months to rest before my ski job started. Yet, fatigue endured. In February of 2020, my doctor called with the results of my routine ultrasound. In plain speak he said: “quit messing around or your lymph nodes have to come out”. Some of you may recall, back in 2015 I had been diagnosed with a defective endocrine system crashing my immune system, totally killing my ultra running regimen. 

At once, I scaled back activities. Because I had systematically separated myself from my past community, and my day-to-day joys were now limited, it was a lonely patch to navigate. The future was fading and I lacked the energy to fix it. I was unhappy yet positive for an upside turn. 

Then March 2020 came with a global pandemic.

On track

If you are feeling lost and find that you are off-route, no longer on the path you intended, the best thing to do is to retrace your steps to the spot where you were last on track.

Mandatory isolation to curb the spread of the pandemic cast mixed-blessings on my situation. The timing of it forced me to rest and reassess. I retraced my steps to where I think I went off-route.

Reflecting on the last three years, I am satisfied with what I accomplished and remain passionate about the future.

Today, my health is all-good and career-wise am transitioning into something appropriate for the time being. The book! My illustrated novel project is moving forward. Stay tuned for updates. 

As for the cool content for my social media presence… adventures of the last three years will surely show up in the narrative.

When you have a map, “lost” and “off-route” are not the same.

Last day-hike I ever guided. Panorama Ridge.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Why uncertainty is actually a spark

On the MacBeth Couloir Col. Spearhead Traverse, April 2017.

Uncertainty

I began executing a phase of my plan. I sifted through my belongings and painstakingly triaged what stays and what would go. Once the decision was made, letting go of objects regardless of their meaning was not so disastrous. In fact, I chose to turn the episode into a celebration and invited 100 friends to participate in my “garage sale” event and in doing so, vulnerably allowed others to contribute positively in my transition.

When you open yourself up to the support of others and they come through, you gain unfailing strength.

Sale & Celebration Event. April 2017

Trust

It’s no secret that I’m smitten with rock climbing. In October of 2016, I bought a membership and a lesson at the North Shore Hive bouldering gym. I then got “on the ropes” at a climbing gym. The next logical step was to learn how to lead climb. For those who are unfamiliar with this sport, lead climbing simply means that you attach yourself to the wall (or rock) as you climb rather than being secured to an anchor from the top of the route. It also means that falling from a lead position entails a further trip to the bottom and in some cases hitting the wall (or rock) abruptly in a jarring motion or worse. To mitigate potential injuries, the climber and belayer practice by simulating falls. The instructor signals at unexpected moments to let go of the holds, to let go, to release your grip and consent to letting yourself fall into space violently toward the ground.

When you fully entrust your physical safety to tiny gear and to your belayer being apt and alert, and it works out fine, you gain confidence in your ability to fully trust.


Tying myself in to lead my first climb route. April 2017.

Assurance

I was so scared. We had just shuffled up a steep narrow passage, still locked in ski-mode and for me it was too much effort too early into the traverse. The wind was pummeling us hard. I was slobbering with each laboured breath and my heart thumped inside my throat. I was the last skier up the crest. I looked around, alarmed by where we were perched then realized I was sliding backwards toward the lip of the drop-off. The tail of my skis breached the edge “ooooh” I yelped, then learched forward frantically. Simon calmly skied toward me. He instructed me to stomp forward, then to stomp-sideslip perpendicular down the ridge alongside his skis. It seemed like we were wedged, the tips butting a rock face and tails nearing that drop-off as we inched our way into a rocky funnel. That’s when he said to take off my skis. We all boot-packed down what I later learned was called the MacBeth Couloir-Col.

The section after this presented a short couloir. “We’re skiing THIS?!” Simon smiled warmly and responded “we ARE skiing this. I believe in you”. He sounded sincere and I accepted his encouragement. This was a turning point for me. Someone believed that I could, and it was enough. For the remainder of the trip I dropped-in to whatever was on route and I smiled whenever I was scared because I knew Simon would look back to check on me.

When someone believes in you, it gives you more than confidence. It changes your perspective.


Simon leading our Spearhead Traverse-in-a-day. April 2017.


Life changes, no mater the extent, hold some level of uncertainty. With the support of others, full trust in the process, assurance in your own ability and the confidence that you’ll survive whatever is ahead – that uncertainty becomes a spark.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Building an Arc

Talking about our projects on a long run. Photo by Hilary

I don’t know why exactly I’m doing what I’m doing. I laugh to myself as this thought pops into my head “I’m Noah building the Arc”. I’m not referring to a voice in my head tormenting me to do things. It’s more like a nagging, relentless, furious drive to act, to dive forward. I reckon the purpose will reveal itself at the right moment, as in, precisely when things click into place. I muse that people will then say this plan was mastered from the start. Regardless one thing is clear for sure, time is pressing. 


Every morning I walk into corporate office and think to myself “how do I get out of this?” Every single day my whole being screams... 

“I don’t want to be here”

Am I looking for another office job? No. I sigh at my desk, zombie-like delivering on KPIs. In between writing of boring reports, I spy with envy on Insta galleries of my favourite adventure photographers. I lose myself in the most gorgeous content … the likes of Mountain Life, Adventure Journal, Inner Voice Life, Eskapee with misting eyes. I research the lives of top travel bloggers with a progressively tightening throat.

This image is taped to my notebook. Translation: "wtf am I doing here?"

On such days when my mind wanderlusts, there’s no holding back of a rolling tear. I note that my pod-mates dart away their stares and are likely dying to probe with questions yet are afraid to. They must think I’m concealing a dark and unjust personal tragedy.

My discontent is so intolerable that I cannot do nothing. And so I started a to-do list. It looks like this:
  • sell my belongings
  • talk to my broker
  • declare to everyone that I’m working on something incredibly cool
  • continue to sign-up for mountain-skills certification courses
  • put my condo on the market

Unsure what comes after the last bullet item. I’m executing this list subconsciously. Just as Noah built his Arc. Maybe he asked “why?” or “what happens next?”. It made no sense but he did it anyway. He knew things would work out.

Remember last week with Gary Robbins? We all followed the tweet updates and refreshed our web browsers every 5 minutes for news as he fought his way through the cruel Barkley Marathons. That footage of the finish line certainly gave reign to a range of emotions. For me, it was this pre-race interview that stirred me most.



He said he was doing Barley because of the near guarantee of failure. To Gary, a 0.01% chance of success was still a chance. He said, he believed. If you believe in yourself then all is possible. And no matter the outcome if he gave it all he had, in the end he won an unforgettable journey.

Some people trust experience, some people trust inspiration. Gary believed that his experience made it probable there was a margin that success could be his. Noah trusted inspiration. He didn’t question why exactly he was doing what he was doing. His faith was enough to believe a small margin of success would attain marvels.

I’m aiming for a little of both. I have enough experience to trust that I can accomplish what I set out to complete, and inspired enough to believe that there is purpose in my to-do list. Things will click into place.



Saturday, March 25, 2017

How to do more of what you love

Paul Ridge. Photo by Adam. 2016

Recently, I was featured in the corporate Wellness Newsletter of my workplace. Answering the questions for that interview reminded me that I used to blog regularly. I enjoyed blogging. Why did I stop? Various reasons as reasons usually go.

Now re-reading my last blog entry from one year ago, I’m pleased to report that whatever I had predicted for myself actually followed through. I completed all planned races. I continued with my mountain skills pursuits and I checked-off projects from an ever growing list of objectives. 

Well. If you adventure with me, then you're of the same mindset that playing outside is the best thing ever. If you follow me through social medias, then you've liked a lot of mountain photos. I don't know if you get these types of requests but my message box is filled with questions like how do you find time to get out so much? ... do you work? or I'm getting into backcountry skiing, what gear do you recommend I buy? and can you send me your weight lifting program?.

Anyway. In that Wellness Newsletter interview, I concluded the last question saying the best advice ever given to me was to “do more of what you love”. Which kind of implies that I'm doing just that.

For the most part, I like work. No. I like working, but I don’t love what I’m doing right now as a career. It feels like my corporate office job segregates pieces of me. It's like I lead two separate lives. There's me and there's ghost of me. 

So, I need to do more of what I love, otherwise my Instagram Gallery would be a hoax.


Mt Brunswick. Photo by Audrée. 2016.


Have you noticed that when you start shopping for a van or a backpack or a new waterproof jacket, suddenly you start seeing vans, backpacks, jackets everywhere?  

I'm shopping for a new life. And I’ve been noticing the type of life I want to lead. You've guessed it, I see it everywhere. I'm surrounded by awesome people. People with crazy plans who make big heroic changes so they can live a life they love - and they're making a difference while doing it. 

I have a plan. I'll give you a hint: It has something to do with the questions I regularly get asked.

You can expect a new website and a lot of activity in my social media feed ... I'll be looking for your feedback, suggestions and questions as I make progress in this journey, learning how to do more of what we love. 

Below is that Wellness Newsletter feature from my workplace interview for your interest: 


Interview March 2017


How did you start racing?

It started with cycling in the late ‘90s. I competed in cross-country mountain biking, on a team, at the elite level across North America for about 8 years. I wanted to be a professional cyclist but couldn’t make the leap to full-time. Leaving the security of my office job seemed terribly uncertain. 

"... my dreams would not materialize unless I committed to a huge change or hugely changed what I wanted."

I knew other athletes who went for it. At the time, cycling wasn’t something you could earn a decent living on in Canada. Even with national team status and sponsor contracts, amateur athletes tend to work part-time and train 6-10+ hours a day. Stories of friends’ struggles discouraged me. I wondered if a refocus of my energy would address this lingering dissatisfaction creeping-in. Truth was, my dreams would not materialize unless I committed to a huge change or hugely changed what I wanted. Resigned, I went back to school, completed a Master’s program and thereafter transitioned into another profession entirely. I put the bike away.

The career change brought me to Vancouver and to an exciting opportunity with VANOC. It was an unpredictable schedule with little or no time for fitness goals while working for the Olympics (ironically), so I started to run as a sanity outlet. Running was a flexible way to sneak-in workouts in sporadic intervals. With running, there is little equipment required and you get great value from your efforts.

Despite workload I joined and managed to keep up with a strong running club, VFAC. We trained for road racing on the track but sometimes in Stanley Park on the trails, which was for me, much more enjoyable than pounding on pavement. Being on trails felt familiar. The forest reignited joys I had experienced in my past life as a mountain-biker. Soon after, I was introduced to the North Shore Mountains. Then, someone mentioned this race the “Knee Knacker”…


Swan Falls with Jamie. Photo by Adam. 2016.

What was the last race you did and how’d it go?

Fast-forward seven years. Since that initial Knee Knacker, I’ve competed in over ten 50km trail and mountain running events, a handful of 50milers and most recently, last season I raced the FatDog 70mi distance (114km) in Manning Park and finished 2nd female overall.


What one or two things do you do in your training that are keys to your success?

I love to race and to suffer. Yet over the years, my interaction with the mountains has shifted from the competing aspects of the sport to more of a relationship with the outdoors and adventure. My motivation has changed but my training philosophy has remained the same.

Key to my success? It’s corny but seriously, just aim for balance. I train to be a well-rounded athlete.

My training program is cyclical, split into a winter season and a summer season. And it is also periodized within the winter/summer cycles, sectioned into 6-12 week building blocks.

In the winter, I practice ski touring in the alpine backcountry and cross-country ski (skate-ski). I run short distances, max 20km per week for maintenance. For strength, functional mobility and agility, I lift weights 2-3 times a week and regularly rock climb at an indoor gym.

In the shoulder season, I’ve started to incorporate mountaineering as a fun transition into the trail-running season, where my run mileage gradually increases to 30-50km per week.

In summer I reduce time in the gym, time cross training, and increase mileage specific to an event, some weeks running up to 150km. This year, I’m putting less emphasis on races and more on adventure runs – which are usually ultra long distances (30-55km per day) with a lot of elevation over several days. These adventures are self-supported, meaning I run with a 20litre pack (see video of the 10 essentials for backcountry runners). For example last year, I ran sections of the Sunshine Coast trail and circumnavigated Mt Hood.

There is pleasure in the pathless woods;
There is rapture on the lonely shore;
There is society, where non intrudes,
By the deep sea, and music in its roar:
I love not man less, but Nature more…
– Lord Byron

Where do you draw your inspiration from?

I pay close attention to injury prevention measures, nutrition management and active recovery. It’s not always possible to strip away the stressful agents in life, and stress does affect me negatively if I let the triggers nag me too long. So, choosing to unwind by stretching to music for an hour instead of crashing on the couch to Netflix is usually a healthier option.

I draw inspiration from people who take those better options time after time as a way of being. They have invested in reflecting on their choices and are forever adapting. Right now, two big influencers are friends, adventurer ChrisBrinlee, Jr. and mountain runner ChrisJones.

Brandywine Falls with Audrée and Adele. 2016.


What is the best advice you were ever given? And what advice would you give others who want to start racing and/or adventuring?

Enlisting coachestrainers, and having high-quality training partners is essential. All the local run shops, including MEC offer training groups and clinics. Registering for an event is a strong motivator. My favourite series for advanced runners is CMTS and for an introductory, family-friendly race series there is 5Peaks. Recently, I have been spending time with a mountain mentor to grow areas where I have gaps and to push hard beyond belief.

The best advice ever given was “do more of what you love” ...

Instagram: chloe_longstride