Thursday, December 1, 2016

The Decade

Still excitedly running forward...with a smile
(pic: from the Tasmanian Trail Festival in Feb of 2016)

Ten years. Let me say that again more slowly. T e n....Y e a r s.....

Two weeks ago I celebrated my 40th birthday. I suppose a part of me should be panicking at the thought of "mid-life".  Perhaps I should be keenly aware of the associated impending "crisis" that is now assuredly coming at any moment.  Honestly though, my first though was, "Cool! I get to be a masters runner now!".

I chose this above picture to act as the cover for this post, because I thought it was just such a fitting capture of what I truly feel when I think about the past 10 years...and what may come of the next 10. I'd like to think that I'm moving ahead, with purpose, with determination, and with a whole lot of excitement and fun. It's almost as if I'm saying in the picture, "Damn this was a fun course and a I can't wait to see what's around the next turn!".

In many ways I just can't believe it's been ten years.  It seems like yesterday that I was hanging out in Cleveland, going to work everyday as a computer engineer, and dreaming of visiting faraway places of the world.  But yet, when I think of all that I've been able to do these past 10 years, it almost seems like my life in Cleveland was truly a full lifetime ago; a past life in a sense.

So much has happened in the past ten years that it's hard for me to really focus on any one thing.  I could turn this post into a very long "Decade in Review" post....but I won't.  Instead, I thought I'd keep it simple with a few words, and a few pictures. I figure for specific memories, I have my  "year-in-review" posts that I do each year that really highlight my new experiences along the way.

On my 30th birthday, 10 years ago, I had just made it through the two worst years of my entire life...barely...and was desperate for something new. On that day, it was the first time in a very very long time that I actually felt a tiny sliver of hope. I remember thinking that the dark fog had cleared a little bit that day. I wrote these words in my journal:

"Well today I celebrate two things.  First off, at 9:57 this morning, I officially became an adult.  My wild and crazy twenties....are now over.  I am a man of thirty years.  I am as old as the first Apple computer.  I was born only months after the country was celebrating its 200th birthday.  I have seen many good and many bad things in these thirty years.  These last few years, worse than any.  I am going to look forward to the next thirty with hope and excitement.  There are many accomplishments yet for me to go after, and I start tomorrow. Before I know it...I'll be 40!. Today I think I'll rest though. As far as the second celebration, and probably the more important one.  Today I mailed off all of my graduate school applications.  I made my deadline of Nov 30th. Now I sit back, and wait.  I was very surprised at the difficulty I faced doing these apps.  I really thought they'd be a breeze.  But it all doesn't matter now.  No more proof reading, no more editing, no more worrying. Now I am going to get a coffee and enjoy the rest of my birthday.  I think I've earned it dammit."

And that was it.  The next day the sun came up and I felt a little better.  I went out that night and celebrated my 30th with friends as I hosted a 3 hour acoustic set at the local bar.  I played over 30 songs, laughed for the first time in ages, and was finally able to enjoy the company of good people.

Celebrating my 30th at the local bar in Cleveland

My friends coming up to help me with a few songs

A few months later, I'd get the news that I'd been accepted to the Penn State graduate program in Geosciences, and I knew my life was on a brand new path, that would open so many new doors to me. And to say it has...would be an enormous understatement.

There's been the thru-hikes, the crazy runs, the Antarctic deployments, the traveling, the new friends, the new relationships, the new hobbies, my Barkley family, new jobs, and so much more.  Shoot, just in those 10 years, I managed to somehow make it down to Antarctica SEVEN times!

7 deployments in 10 years!

But I think of all the things I could highlight in this post that I've managed to experience over these ten years, there's really just TWO things that I come back to which I believe have made this entire new life, and the departure from my old life, all worth it.

First: In May of last year after not even being sure if I'd get a decent score on the GRE in 2006, let alone be accepted to a prestigious graduate school program like Penn State, THIS happened:

Graduating with my PhD in Geoscience

Celebrating 8 long years of hard work in graduate school

I wrote these words below in a post about my graduation and I think they really still say it best:

"One of the most anticipated, important, poignant, and memorable experiences I've had, was my graduation from graduate school. I had spent almost 8 years of my life back in school trying desperately to finish...and at many times I was honestly worried I wouldn't. Working towards a doctorate in any field takes an incredible amount out of a person, and I have a profound respect for anyone that survives it. When I started graduate school in 2007, all I had my sights set on was a Masters Degree...and even that seemed lofty. Through the many years, many classes, many hours in the lab, and countless months deployed in the field, I had somehow worked my way up through a doctoral program. I barely survived my candidacy exam, and eeked my way through my comprehensives. In August of 2014 I stood in front of my committee, friends, and family, and somehow successfully defended my dissertation. I'm pretty sure the old man was there that day too. I had countless hours of edits to work through before all of my committee would approve my work, so I missed the cut-off for a December graduation. This meant that I had to wait almost a full year to actually walk across the Penn State commencement stage, and be addressed as "Doctor" for the first time. was entirely worth the wait. I will never forget, for as long as I live, that moment walking across that stage, being handed my doctorate, looking out an enormous crowd, and knowing that my 8 years of hard work was finally over. It was the hardest, longest, and most trying ultramarathon I had ever made it through....and somehow I survived. I have so many people to thank for their support, which ultimately allowed me to actually finish; mostly my family and my wonderful C. I was there with you on your day, and I will always be grateful you were there for me on my day."

Which brings me to the second most important part of the past decade. Wherever anyone's life may take them, or whatever sadness they may have experienced along the way, what makes hope possible, are the people that we meet along the way; the people we share our experiences with. I have been so incredibly fortunate to have met some really good people over these ten years, but most especially you C. Because of you, I continue to hope for the future...and I continue to head into it with a smile, and as always...with a requisite amount of "silly-ness".  Thank you for keeping my life goofy, fun, and full of surprises.  I can't wait for the next ten, and where it brings us.

I wish I had some profundities I could spew forth onto these pages, but honestly, I'm really just content in my writers block.  There will be no poetic waxing, or quoting of Thoreau.  Just a few fun pictures to leave with you highlighting a couple of other fun memories from the last decade.

Looking back at the line in my text about "Before I know it, I'll be 40!",  makes me wonder if I could go back and talk that version of me now...what that 30-year old John would ask me. I'm sure that version of me would love to ask "So how have I done?" Well 30 year-old John, this is the 40-year old version of you telling you that you did good kid. You took risks, and you came out so much more fulfilled that you could have possibly imagined.

So, Here's to another amazing 10 years...and I look forward to quoting this text on this day in 2026.

This year at South Pole....realizing I was days away from turning 40...

Some fun Glacier traversing for my birthday near McMurdo and Mt. Erebus...

And I'll leave you all with this fun walk down memory lane...

In 2006, I hiked the Quehanna Trial in Pennsylvania wearing this blue Go-Lite Shirt.
This was my first true "multi-day" hike and gear shakedown, before my AT thru-hike.

6 years later, I finished Barkley in that same shirt....

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